The Moon Pool by A. Merritt - HTML preview
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Chapter 9. A Lost Page Of Earth
WHEN I awakened the sun was streaming through the cabin porthole. Outside a fresh voice lilted. I lay on my two chairs and listened. The song was one with the wholesome sunshine and the breeze blowing stiffly and whipping the curtains. It was Larry O'Keefe at his matins:The little red lark is shaking his wings, Straight from the breast of his love he springs Larry's voice soared.
His wings and his feathers are sunrise red, He hails the sun and his golden head, Good morning, Doc, you are long abed.
This last was a most irreverent interpolation, I well knew. I opened my door. O'Keefe stood outside laughing. The Suwarna, her engines silent, was making fine headway under all sail, the Brunhilda skipping in her wake cheerfully with half her canvas up.
The sea was crisping and dimpling under the wind. Blue and white was the world as far as the eye could reach. Schools of little silvery green flying fish broke through the water rushing on each side of us; flashed for an instant and were gone. Behind us gulls hovered and dipped. The shadow of mystery had retreated far over the rim of this wide awake and beautiful world and if, subconsciously, I knew that somewhere it was brooding and waiting, for a little while at least I was consciously free of its oppression."How's the patient?" asked O'Keefe.
He was answered by Huldricksson himself, who must have risen just as I left the cabin. The Norseman had slipped on a pair of pajamas and, giant torso naked under the sun, he strode out upon us. We all of us looked at him a trifle anxiously. But Olaf's madness had left him. In his eyes was much sorrow, but the berserk rage was gone.He spoke straight to me: "You said last night we follow?" I nodded. "It is where?" he asked again. "We go first to Ponape and from there to Metalanim Harbour--to the Nan-Matal. You know the place?" Huldricksson bowed--a white gleam as of ice showing in his blue eyes. "It is there?" he asked. "It is there that we must first search," I answered. "Good!" said Olaf Huldricksson. "It is good!" He looked at Da Costa inquiringly and the little Portuguese, following his thought, answered his unspoken question. "We should be at Ponape tomorrow morning early, Olaf." "Good!" repeated the Norseman. He looked away, his eyes tear-filled.
A restraint fell upon us; the embarrassment all men experience when they feel a great sympathy and a great pity, to neither of which they quite know how to give expression. By silent consent we discussed at breakfast only the most casual topics.When the meal was over Huldricksson expressed a desire to go aboard the Brunhilda.
The Suwarna hove to and Da Costa and he dropped into the small boat. When they reached the Brunhilda's deck I saw Olaf take the wheel and the two fall into earnest talk. I beckoned to O'Keefe and we stretched ourselves out on the bow hatch under cover of the foresail. He lighted a cigarette, took a couple of leisurely puffs, and looked at me expectantly."Well?" I asked. "Well," said O'Keefe, "suppose you tell me what you think--and then I'll proceed to point out your scientific errors." His eyes twinkled mischievously.
"Larry," I replied, somewhat severely, "you may not know that I have a scientific reputation which, putting aside all modesty, I may say is an enviable one. You used a word last night to which I must interpose serious objection. You more than hinted that I hid--superstitions. Let me inform you, Larry O'Keefe, that I am solely a seeker, observer, analyst, and synthesist of facts. I am not"--and I tried to make my tone as pointed as my words--"I am not a believer in phantoms or spooks, leprechauns, banshees, or ghostly harpers."O'Keefe leaned back and shouted with laughter.
"Forgive me, Goodwin," he gasped. "But if you could have seen yourself solemnly disclaiming the banshee"-another twinkle showed in his eyes--"and then with all this sunshine and this wide-open world"--he shrugged his shoulders--"it's hard to visualize anything such as you and Huldricksson have described."
"I know how hard it is, Larry," I answered. "And don't think I have any idea that the phenomenon is supernatural in the sense spiritualists and table turners have given that word. I do think it is supernormal; energized by a force unknown to modern science--but that doesn't mean I think it outside the radius of science."
"I think," I hazarded finally, "it is possible that some members of that race peopling the ancient continent which we know existed here in the Pacific, have survived. We know that many of these islands are honeycombed with caverns and vast subterranean spaces, literally underground lands running in some cases far out beneath the ocean floor. It is possible that for some reason survivors of this race sought refuge in the abysmal spaces, one of whose entrances is on the islet where Throckmartin's party met its end.
"As for their persistence in these caverns--we know they possessed a high science. They may have gone far in the mastery of certain universal forms of energy--especially that we call light. They may have developed a civilization and a science far more advanced than ours. What I call the Dweller may be one of the results of this science. Larry--it may well be that this lost race is planning to emerge again upon earth's surface!""And is sending out your Dweller as a messenger, a scientific dove from their Ark?" I chose to overlook the banter in his question. "Did you ever hear of the Chamats?" I asked him. He shook his head.
"In Papua," I explained, "there is a wide-spread and immeasurably old tradition that 'imprisoned under the hills' is a race of giants who once ruled this region 'when it stretched from sun to sun before the moon god drew the waters over it'--I quote from the legend. Not only in Papua but throughout Malaysia you find this story. And, so the tradition runs, these people--the Chamats--will one day break through the hills and rule the world; 'make over the world' is the literal translation of the constant phrase in the tale. It was Herbert Spencer who pointed out that there is a basis of fact in every myth and legend of man. It is possible that these survivors I am discussing form Spencer's fact basis for the Malaysian legend.1
*1William Beebe, the famous American naturalist and ornithologist, recently fighting in France with America's air force, called attention to this remarkable belief in an article printed not long ago in the Atlantic Monthly. Still more significant was it that he noted a persistent rumour that the breaking out of the buried race was close.-W.J. B., Pres. I. A. of S.
"This much is sure--the moon door, which is clearly operated by the action of moon rays upon some unknown element or combination and the crystals through which the moon rays pour down upon the pool their prismatic columns, are humanly made mechanisms. So long as they are humanly made, and so long as it IS this flood of moonlight from which the Dweller draws its power of materialization, the Dweller itself, if not the product of the human mind, is at least dependent upon the product of the human mind for its appearance.""Wait a minute, Goodwin," interrupted O'Keefe. "Do you mean to say you think that this thing is made of--well --of moonshine?"
"Moonlight," I replied, "is, of course, reflected sunlight. But the rays which pass back to earth after their impact on the moon's surface are profoundly changed. The spectroscope shows that they lose practically all the slower vibrations we call red and infra-red, while the extremely rapid vibrations we call the violet and ultra-violet are accelerated and altered. Many scientists hold that there is an unknown element in the moon--perhaps that which makes the gigantic luminous trails that radiate in all directions from the lunar crater Tycho--whose energies are absorbed by and carried on the moon rays.
"At any rate, whether by the loss of the vibrations of the red or by the addition of this mysterious force, the light of the moon becomes something entirely different from mere modified sunlight--just as the addition or subtraction of one other chemical in a compound of several makes the product a substance with entirely different energies and potentialities.
"Now these rays, Larry, are given perhaps still another mysterious activity by the globes through which Throckmartin said they passed in the Chamber of the Moon Pool. The result is the necessary factor in the formation of the Dweller. There would be nothing scientifically improbable in such a process. Kubalski, the great Russian physicist, produced crystalline forms exhibiting every faculty that we call vital by subjecting certain combinations of chemicals to the action of highly concentrated rays of various colours. Something in light and nothing else produced their pseudo-vitality. We do not begin to know how to harness the potentialities of that magnetic vibration of the ether we call light."
"Listen, Doc," said Larry earnestly, "I'll take everything you say about this lost continent, the people who used to live on it, and their caverns, for granted. But by the sword of Brian Boru, you'll never get me to fall for the idea that a bunch of moonshine can handle a big woman such as you say Throckmartin's Thora was, nor a two-fisted man such as you say Throckmartin was, nor Huldricksson's wife--and I'll bet she was one of those strapping big northern women too--you'll never get me to believe that any bunch of concentrated moonshine could handle them and take them waltzing off along a moonbeam back to wherever it goes. No, Doc, not on your life, even Tennessee moonshine couldn't do that--nix!""All right, O'Keefe," I answered, now very much irritated indeed. "What's your theory?" And I could not resist adding: "Fairies?"
"Professor," he grinned, "if that Thing's a fairy it's Irish and when it sees me it'll be so glad there'll be nothing to it. 'I was lost, strayed, or stolen, Larry avick,' it'll say, 'an' I was so homesick for the old sod I was desp'rit,' it'll say, an' 'take me back quick before I do any more har-rm!' it'll tell me--an' that's the truth.
"Now don't get me wrong. I believe you all saw something all right. But what I think you saw was some kind of gas. All this region is volcanic and islands and things are constantly poking up from the sea. It's probably gas; a volcanic emanation; something new to us and that drives you crazy --lots of kinds of gas do that. It hit the Throckmartin party on that island and they probably were all more or less delirious all the time; thought they saw things; talked it over and--collective hallucination--just like the Angels of Mons and other miracles of the war. Somebody sees something that looks like something else. He points it out to the man next him. 'Do you see it?' asks he. 'Sure I see it,' says the other. And there you are--collective hallucination.
"When your friends got it bad they most likely jumped overboard one by one. Huldricksson sails into a place where it is and it hits his wife. She grabs the child and jumps over. Maybe the moon rays make it luminous! I've seen gas on the front under the moon that looked like a thousand whirling dervish devils. Yes, and you could see the devil's faces in it. And if it got into your lungs nothing could ever make you think you hadn't seen real devils."For a time I was silent. "Larry," I said at last, "whether you are right or I am right, I must go to the Nan-Matal. Will you go with me, Larry?"
"Goodwin," he replied, "I surely will. I'm as interested as you are. If we don't run across the Dolphin I'll stick. I'll leave word at Ponape, to tell them where I am should they come along. If they report me dead for a while there's nobody to care. So that's all right. Only old man, be reasonable. You've thought over this so long, you're going bug, honestly you are."And again, the gladness that I might have Larry O'Keefe with me, was so great that I forgot to be angry.
Chapter 10. The Moon PoolDA COSTA, who had come aboard unnoticed by either of us, now tapped me on the arm. "Doctair Goodwin," he said, "can I see you in my cabin, sair?" At last, then, he was going to speak. I followed him.
"Doctair," he said, when we had entered, "this is a veree strange thing that has happened to Olaf. Veree strange. An' the natives of Ponape, they have been very much excite' lately.
"Of what they fear I know nothing, nothing!" Again that quick, furtive crossing of himself. "But this I have to tell you. There came to me from Ranaloa last month a man, a Russian, a doctair, like you. His name it was Marakinoff. I take him to Ponape an' the natives there they will not take him to the Nan-Matal where he wish to go--no! So I take him. We leave in a boat, wit' much instrument carefully tied up. I leave him there wit' the boat an' the food. He tell me to tell no one an' pay me not to. But you are a friend an' Olaf he depend much upon you an' so I tell you, sair.""You know nothing more than this, Da Costa?" I asked. "Nothing of another expedition?" "No," he shook his head vehemently. "Nothing more." "Hear the name Throckmartin while you were there?" I persisted. "No," his eyes were steady as he answered but the pallor had crept again into his face.
I was not so sure. But if he knew more than he had told me why was he afraid to speak? My anxiety deepened and later I sought relief from it by repeating the conversation to O'Keefe.
"A Russian, eh," he said. "Well, they can be damned nice, or damned--otherwise. Considering what you did for me, I hope I can look him over before the Dolphin shows up."
Next morning we raised Ponape, without further incident, and before noon the Suwarna and the Brunhilda had dropped anchor in the harbour. Upon the excitement and manifest dread of the natives, when we sought among them for carriers and workmen to accompany us, I will not dwell. It is enough to say that no payment we offered could induce a single one of them to go to the Nan-Matal. Nor would they say why.
Finally it was agreed that the Brunhilda should be left in charge of a half-breed Chinaman, whom both Da Costa and Huldricksson knew and trusted. We piled her longboat up with my instruments and food and camping equipment. The Suwarna took us around to Metalanim Harbour, and there, with the tops of ancient sea walls deep in the blue water beneath us, and the ruins looming up out of the mangroves, a scant mile from us, left us.
Then with Huldricksson manipulating our small sail, and Larry at the rudder, we rounded the titanic wall that swept down into the depths, and turned at last into the canal that Throckmartin, on his map, had marked as that which, running between frowning NanTauach and its satellite islet, Tau, led straight to the gate of the place of ancient mysteries.
And as we entered that channel we were enveloped by a silence; a silence so intense, so-weighted that it seemed to have substance; an alien silence that clung and stifled and still stood aloof from us--the living. It was a stillness, such as might follow the long tramping of millions into the grave; it was--paradoxical as it may be--filled with the withdrawal of life.
Standing down in the chambered depths of the Great Pyramid I had known something of such silence--but never such intensity as this. Larry felt it and I saw him look at me askance. If Olaf, sitting in the bow, felt it, too, he gave no sign; his blue eyes, with again the glint of ice within them, watched the channel before us.
As we passed, there arose upon our left sheer walls of black basalt blocks, cyclopean, towering fifty feet or more, broken here and there by the sinking of their deep foundations.
In front of us the mangroves widened out and filled the acanal. On our right the lesser walls of Tau, sombre blocks smoothed and squared and set with a cold, mathematical nicety that filled me with vague awe, slipped by. Through breaks I caught glimpses of dark ruins and of great fallen stones that seemed to crouch and menace us, as we passed. Somewhere there, hidden, were the seven globes that poured the moon fire down upon the Moon Pool.
Now we were among the mangroves and, sail down, the three of us pushed and pulled the boat through their tangled roots and branches. The noise of our passing split the silence like a profanation, and from the ancient bastions came murmurs--forbidding, strangely sinister. And now we were through, floating on a little open space of shadow-filled water. Before us lifted the gateway of Nan-Tauach, gigantic, broken, incredibly old; shattered portals through which had passed men and women of earth's dawn; old with a weight of years that pressed leadenly upon the eyes that looked upon it, and yet was in some curious indefinable way--menacingly defiant.
Beyond the gate, back from the portals, stretched a flight of enormous basalt slabs, a giant's stairway indeed; and from each side of it marched the high walls that were the Dweller's pathway. None of us spoke as we grounded the boat and dragged it upon a halfsubmerged pier. And when we did speak it was in whispers.
"What next?" asked Larry.
"I think we ought to take a look around," I replied in the same low tones. "We'll climb the wall here and take a flash about. The whole place ought to be plain as day from that height."Huldricksson, his blue eyes alert, nodded. With the greatest difficulty we clambered up the broken blocks.
To the east and south of us, set like children's blocks in the midst of the sapphire sea, lay dozens of islets, none of them covering more than two square miles of surface; each of them a perfect square or oblong within its protecting walls.On none was there sign of life, save for a few great birds that hovered here and there, and gulls dipping in the blue waves beyond.
We turned our gaze down upon the island on which we stood. It was, I estimated, about three-quarters of a mile square. The sea wall enclosed it. it was really an enormous basalt-sided open cube, and within it two other open cubes. The enclosure between the first and second wall was stone paved, with here and there a broken pillar and long stone benches. The hibiscus, the aloe tree, and a number of small shrubs had found place, but seemed only to intensify its stark loneliness."Wonder where the Russian can be?" asked Larry.
I shook my head. There was no sign of life here. Had Marakinoff gone--or had the Dweller taken him, too? Whatever had happened, there was no trace of him below us or on any of the islets within our range of vision. We scrambled down the side of the gateway. Olaf looked at me wistfully.
"We start the search now, Olaf," I said. "And first, O'Keefe, let us see whether the grey stone is really here. After that we will set up camp, and while I unpack, you and Olaf search the island. It won't take long."
Larry gave a look at his service automatic and grinned. "Lead on, Macduff," he said. We made our way up the steps, through the outer enclosures and into the central square, I confess to a fire of scientific curiosity and eagerness tinged with a dread that O'Keefe's analysis might be true. Would we find the moving slab and, if so, would it be as Throckmartin had described? If so, then even Larry would have to admit that here was something that theories of gases and luminous emanations would not explain; and the first test of the whole amazing story would be passed. But if not- And there before us, the faintest tinge of grey setting it apart from its neighbouring blocks of basalt, was the moon door!
There was no mistaking it. This was, in very deed, the portal through which Throckmartin had seen pass that gloriously dreadful apparition he called the Dweller. At its base was the curious, seemingly polished cup-like depression within which, my lost friend had told me, the opening door swung.
What was that portal--more enigmatic than was ever sphinx? And what lay beyond it? What did that smooth stone, whose wan deadness whispered of ages-old corridors of time opening out into alien, unimaginable vistas, hide? It had cost the world of science Throckmartin's great brain-as it had cost Throckmartin those he loved. It had drawn me to it in search of Throckmartin--and its shadow had fallen upon the soul of Olaf the Norseman; and upon what thousands upon thousands more I wondered, since the brains that had conceived it had vanished with their secret knowledge?What lay beyond it?
I stretched out a shaking hand and touched the surface of the slab. A faint thrill passed through my hand and arm, oddly unfamiliar and as oddly unpleasant; as of electric contact holding the very essence of cold. O'Keefe, watching, imitated my action. As his fingers rested on the stone his face filled with astonishment.
"It's the door?" he asked. I nodded. There was a low whistle from him and he pointed up toward the top of the grey stone. I followed the gesture and saw, above the moon door and on each side of it, two gently curving bosses of rock, perhaps a foot in diameter."The moon door's keys," I said. "It begins to look so," answered Larry. "If we can find them," he added. "There's nothing we can do till moonrise," I replied. "And we've none too much time to prepare as it is. Come!"
A little later we were beside our boat. We lightered it, set up the tent, and as it was now but a short hour to sundown I bade them leave me and make their search. They went off together, and I busied myself with opening some of the paraphernalia I had brought with me.
First of all I took out the two Becquerel ray-condensers that I had bought in Sydney. Their lenses would collect and intensify to the fullest extent any light directed upon them. I had found them most useful in making spectroscopic analysis of luminous vapours, and I knew that at Yerkes Observatory splendid results had been obtained from them in collecting the diffused radiance of the nebulae for the same purpose.
If my theory of the grey slab's mechanism were correct, it was practically certain that with the satellite only a few nights past the full we could concentrate enough light on the bosses to open the rock. And as the ray streams through the seven globes described by Throckmartin would be too weak to energize the Pool, we could enter the chamber free from any fear of encountering its tenant, make our preliminary observations and go forth before the moon had dropped so far that the concentration in the condensers would fall below that necessary to keep the portal from closing.
I took out also a small spectroscope, and a few other instruments for the analysis of certain light manifestations and the testing of metal and liquid. Finally, I put aside my emergency medical kit.
I had hardly finished examining and adjusting these before O'Keefe and Huldricksson returned. They reported signs of a camp at least ten days old beside the northern wall of the outer court, but beyond that no evidence of others beyond ourselves on Nan-Tauach.
We prepared supper, ate and talked a little, but for the most part were silent. Even Larry's high spirits were not in evidence; half a dozen times I saw him take out his automatic and look it over. He was more thoughtful than I had ever seen him. Once he went into the tent, rummaged about a bit and brought out another revolver which, he said, he had got from Da Costa, and a half-dozen clips of cartridges. He passed the gun over to Olaf.
At last a glow in the southeast heralded the rising moon. I picked up my instruments and the medical kit; Larry and Olaf shouldered each a short ladder that was part of my equipment, and, with our electric flashes pointing the way, walked up the great stairs, through the enclosures, and straight to the grey stone.
By this time the moon had risen and its clipped light shone full upon the slab. I saw faint gleams pass over it as of fleeting phosphorescence--but so faint were they that I could not be sure of the truth of my observation.
We set the ladders in place. Olaf I assigned to stand before the door and watch for the first signs of its opening-if open it should. The Becquerels were set within three-inch tripods, whose feet I had equipped with vacuum rings to enable them to hold fast to the rock.
I scaled one ladder and fastened a condenser over the boss; descended; sent Larry up to watch it, and, ascending the second ladder, rapidly fixed the other in its place. Then, with O'Keefe watchful on his perch, I on mine, and Olaf's eyes fixed upon the moon door, we began our vigil. Suddenly there was an exclamation from Larry."Seven little lights are beginning to glow on this stone!" he cried.
But I had already seen those beneath my lens begin to gleam out with a silvery lustre. Swiftly the rays within the condenser began to thicken and increase, and as they did so the seven small circles waxed like stars growing out of the dusk, and with a queer-curdled is the best word I can find to define it--radiance entirely strange to me.Beneath me I heard a faint, sighing murmur and then the voice of Huldricksson: "It opens--the stone turns--" I began to climb down the ladder. Again came Olaf's voice: "The stone--it is open--" And then a shriek, a wail of blended anguish and pity, of rage and despair--and the sound of swift footsteps racing through the wall beneath me!
I dropped to the ground. The moon door was wide open, and through it I caught a glimpse of a corridor filled with a faint, pearly vaporous light like earliest misty dawn. But of Olaf I could see--nothing! And even as I stood, gaping, from behind me came the sharp crack of a rifle; the glass of the condenser at Larry's side flew into fragments; he dropped swiftly to the ground, the automatic in his hand flashed once, twice, into the darkness.And the moon door began to pivot slowly, slowly back into its place!
I rushed toward the turning stone with the wild idea of holding it open. As I thrust my hands against it there came at my back a snarl and an oath and Larry staggered under the impact of a body that had flung itself straight at his throat. He reeled at the lip of the shallow cup at the base of the slab, slipped upon its polished curve, fell and rolled with that which had attacked him, kicking and writhing, straight through the narrowing portal into the passage!
Forgetting all else, I sprang to his aid. As I leaped I felt the closing edge of the moon door graze my side. Then, as Larry raised a fist, brought it down upon the temple of the man who had grappled with him and rose from the twitching body unsteadily to his feet, I heard shuddering past me a mournful whisper; spun about as though some giant's hand had whirled me- The end of the corridor no longer opened out into the moonlit square of ruined Nan-Tauach. It was barred by a solid mass of glimmering stone. The moon door had closed!O'Keefe took a stumbling step toward the barrier behind us. There was no mark of juncture with the shining walls; the slab fitted into the sides as closely as a mosaic.
"It's shut all right," said Larry. "But if there's a way in, there's a way out. Anyway, Doc, we're right in the pew we've been heading for--so why worry?" He grinned at me cheerfully. The man on the floor groaned, and he dropped to his knees beside him."Marakinoff!" he cried. At my exclamation he moved aside, turning the face so I could see it. It was clearly Russian, and just as clearly its possessor was one of unusual force and intellect.
The strong, massive brow with orbital ridge unusually developed, the dominant, highbridged nose, the straight lips with their more than suggestion of latent cruelty, and the strong lines of the jaw beneath a black, pointed beard all gave evidence that here was a personality beyond the ordinary.
"Couldn't be anybody else," said Larry, breaking in on my thoughts. "He must have been watching us over there from Chau-ta-leur's vault all the time."
Swiftly he ran practised hands over his body; then stood erect, holding out to me two wicked-looking magazine pistols and a knife. "He got one of my bullets through his right forearm, too," he said. "Just a flesh wound, but it made him drop his rifle. Some arsenal, our little Russian scientist, what?"I opened my medical kit. The wound was a slight one, and Larry stood looking on as I bandaged it. "Got another one of those condensers?" he asked, suddenly. "And do you suppose Olaf will know enough to use it?" "Larry," I answered, "Olaf's not outside! He's in here somewhere!" His jaw dropped. "The hell you say!" he whispered. "Didn't you hear him shriek when the stone opened?" I asked.
"I heard him yell, yes," he said. "But I didn't know what was the matter. And then this wildcat jumped me--" He paused and his eyes widened. "Which way did he go?" he asked swiftly. I pointed down the faintly glowing passage."There's only one way," I said.
"Watch that bird close," hissed O'Keefe, pointing to Marakinoff--and pistol in hand stretched his long legs and raced away. I looked down at the Russian. His eyes were open, and he reached out a hand to me. I lifted him to his feet.
"I have heard," he said. "We follow, quick. If you will take my arm, please, I am shaken yet, yes--" I gripped his shoulder without a word, and the two of us set off down the corridor after O'Keefe. Marakinoff was gasping, and his weight pressed upon me heavily, but he moved with all the will and strength that were in him.
As we ran I took hasty note of the tunnel. Its sides were smooth and polished, and the light seemed to come not from their surfaces, but from far within them--giving to the walls an illusive aspect of distance and depth; rendering them in a peculiarly weird way-spacious. The passage turned, twisted, ran down, turned again. It came to me that the light that illumined the tunnel was given out by tiny points deep within the stone, sprang from the points ripplingly and spread upon their polished faces.There was a cry from Larry far ahead. "Olaf!"
I gripped Marakinoff's arm closer and we sped on. Now we were coming fast to the end of the passage. Before us was a high arch, and through it I glimpsed a dim, shifting luminosity as of mist filled with rainbows. We reached the portal and I looked into a chamber that might have been transported from that enchanted palace of the Jinn King that rises beyond the magic mountains of Kaf.
Before me stood O'Keefe and a dozen feet in front of him, Huldricksson, with something clasped tightly in his arms. The Norseman's feet were at the verge of a shining, silvery lip of stone within whose oval lay a blue pool. And down upon this pool staring upward like a gigantic eye, fell seven pillars of phantom light--one of them amethyst, one of rose, another of white, a fourth of blue, and three of emerald, of silver, and of amber. They fell each upon the azure surface, and I knew that these were the seven streams of radiance, within which the Dweller took shape--now but pale ghosts of their brilliancy when the full energy of the moon stream raced through them.
Huldricksson bent and placed on the shining silver lip of the Pool that which he held--and I saw that it was the body of a child! He set it there so gently, bent over the side and thrust a hand down into the water. And as he did so he moaned and lurched against the little body that lay before him. Instantly the form moved--and slipped over the verge into the blue. Huldricksson threw his body over the stone, hands clutching, arms thrust deep down--and from his lips issued a long-drawn, heart-shrivelling wail of pain and of anguish that held in it nothing human!Close on its wake came a cry from Marakinoff. "Catch him!" shouted the Russian. "Drag him back! Quick!"
He leaped forward, but before he could half clear the distance, O'Keefe had leaped too, had caught the Norseman by the shoulders and toppled him backward, where he lay whimpering and sobbing. And as I rushed behind Marakinoff I saw Larry lean over the lip of the Pool and cover his eyes with a shaking hand; saw the Russian peer into it with real pity in his cold eyes.
Then I stared down myself into the Moon Pool, and there, sinking, was a little maid whose dead face and fixed, terrorfilled eyes looked straight into mine; and ever sinking slowly, slowly--vanished! And I knew that this was Olaf's Freda, his beloved yndling!But where was the mother, and where had Olaf found his babe? The Russian was first to speak.
"You have nitroglycerin there, yes?" he asked, pointing toward my medical kit that I had gripped unconsciously and carried with me during the mad rush down the passage. I nodded and drew it out.
"Hypodermic," he ordered next, curtly; took the syringe, filled it accurately with its one one-hundredth of a grain dosage, and leaned over Huldricksson. He rolled up the sailor's sleeves half-way to the shoulder. The arms were white with somewhat of that weird semitranslucence that I had seen on Throckmartin's breast where a tendril of the Dweller had touched him; and his hands were of the same whiteness--like a baroque pearl. Above the line of white, Marakinoff thrust the needle.
Then he reached down into a belt about his waist and drew from it a small, flat flask of what seemed to be lead. He opened it and let a few drops of its contents fall on each arm of the Norwegian. The liquid sparkled and instantly began to spread over the skin much as oil or gasoline dropped on water does--only far more rapidly. And as it spread it drew a sparkling film over the marbled flesh and little wisps of vapour rose from it. The Norseman's mighty chest heaved with agony. His hands clenched. The Russian gave a grunt of satisfaction at this, dropped a little more of the liquid, and then, watching closely, grunted again and leaned back. Huldricksson's laboured breathing ceased, his head dropped upon Larry's knee, and from his arms and hands the whiteness swiftly withdrew.Marakinoff arose and contemplated us--almost benevolently.
"He will all right be in five minutes," he said. "I know. I do it to pay for that shot of mine, and also because we will need him. Yes." He turned to Larry. "You have a poonch like a mule kick, my young friend," he said. "Some time you pay me for that, too, eh?" He smiled; and the quality of the grimace was not exactly reassuring. Larry looked him over quizzically."You're Marakinoff, of course," he said. The Russian nodded, betraying no surprise at the recognition. "And you?" he asked. "Lieutenant O'Keefe of the Royal Flying Corps," replied Larry, saluting. "And this gentleman is Dr. Walter T. Goodwin." Marakinoff's face brightened. "The American botanist?" he queried. I nodded.
"Ah," cried Marakinoff eagerly, "but this is fortunate. Long I have desired to meet you. Your work, for an American, is most excellent; surprising. But you are wrong in your theory of the development of the Angiospermae from Cycadeoidea dacotensis. Da--all wrong--"
I was interrupting him with considerable heat, for my conclusions from the fossil Cycadeoidea I knew to be my greatest triumph, when Larry broke in upon me rudely.
"You have not the scientific mind, young friend," he said. "The poonch, yes! But so has the mule. You must learn that only the fact is important--not you, not me, not this"--he pointed to Huldricksson--"or its sorrows. Only the fact, whatever it is, is real, yes. But"-he turned to me--"another time--"Huldricksson interrupted him. The big seaman had risen stiffly to his feet and stood with Larry's arm supporting him. He stretched out his hands to me.
"I saw her," he whispered. "I saw mine Freda when the stone swung. She lay there--just at my feet. I picked her up and I saw that mine Freda was dead. But I hoped--and I thought maybe mine Helma was somewhere here, too, So I ran with mine yndling--here-" His voice broke. "I thought maybe she was NOT dead," he went on. "And I saw that"he pointed to the Moon Pool-- "and I thought I would bathe her face and she might live again. And when I dipped my hands within--the life left them, and cold, deadly cold, ran up through them into my heart. And mine Freda--she fell--" he covered his eyes, and dropping his head on O'Keefe's shoulder, stood, racked by sobs that seemed to tear at his very soul.
Chapter 11. The Flame-Tipped ShadowsMARAKINOFF nodded his head solemnly as Olaf finished.
"Da!" he said. "That which comes from here took them both--the woman and the child. Da! They came clasped within it and the stone shut upon them. But why it left the child behind I do not understand.""How do you know that?" I cried in amazement.
"Because I saw it," answered Marakinoff simply. "Not only did I see it, but hardly had I time to make escape through the entrance before it passed whirling and murmuring and its bell sounds all joyous. Da! It was what you call the squeak close, that.""Wait a moment," I said--stilling Larry with a gesture. "Do I understand you to say that you were within this place?" Marakinoff actually beamed upon me. "Da, Dr. Goodwin," he said, "I went in when that which comes from it went out!" I gaped at him, stricken dumb; into Larry's bellicose attitude crept a suggestion of grudging respect; Olaf, trembling, watched silently.
"Dr. Goodwin and my impetuous young friend, you," went on Marakinoff after a moment's silence and I wondered vaguely why he did not include Huldricksson in his address--"it is time that we have an understanding. I have a proposal to make to you also. It is this; we are what you call a bad boat, and all of us are in it. Da! We need all hands, is it not so? Let us put together our knowledge and our brains and resources--and even a poonch of a mule is a resource," he looked wickedly at O'Keefe, "and pull our boat into quiet waters again. After that--""All very well, Marakinoff," interjected Larry, "but I don't feel very safe in any boat with somebody capable of shooting me through the back." Marakinoff waved a deprecatory hand.
"It was natural that," he said, "logical, da! Here is a very great secret, perhaps many secrets to my country invaluable--" He paused, shaken by some overpowering emotion; the veins in his forehead grew congested, the cold eyes blazed and the guttural voice harshened.
"I do not apologize and I do not explain," rasped Marakinoff. "But I will tell you, da! Here is my country sweating blood in an experiment to liberate the world. And here are the other nations ringing us like wolves and waiting to spring at our throats at the least sign of weakness. And here are you, Lieutenant O'Keefe of the English wolves, and you Dr. Goodwin of the Yankee pack--and here in this place may be that will enable my country to win its war for the worker. What are the lives of you two and this sailor to that? Less than the flies I crush with my hand, less than midges in the sunbeam!"He suddenly gripped himself.
"But that is not now the important thing," he resumed, almost coldly. "Not that nor my shooting. Let us squarely the situation face. My proposal is so: that we join interests, and what you call see it through together; find our way through this place and those secrets learn of which I have spoken, if we can. And when that is done we will go our ways, to his own land each, to make use of them for our lands as each of us may. On my part, I offer my knowledge--and it is very valuable, Dr. Goodwin--and my training. You and Lieutenant O'Keefe do the same, and this man Olaf, what he can of his strength, for I do not think his usefulness lies in his brains, no."
"In effect, Goodwin," broke in Larry as I hesitated, "the professor's proposition is this: he wants to know what's going on here but he begins to realize it's no one man's job and besides we have the drop on him. We're three to his one, and we have all his hardware and cutlery. But also we can do better with him than without him--just as he can do better with us than without us. It's an even break--for a while. But once he gets that information he's looking for, then look out. You and Olaf and I are the wolves and the flies and the midges again--and the strafing will be about due. Nevertheless, with three to one against him, if he can get away with it he deserves to. I'm for taking him up, if you are."There was almost a twinkle in Marakinoff's eyes.
"It is not just as I would have put it, perhaps," he said, "but in its skeleton he has right. Nor will I turn my hand against you while we are still in danger here. I pledge you my honor on this."Larry laughed. "All right, Professor," he grinned. "I believe you mean every word you say. Nevertheless, I'll just keep the guns." Marakinoff bowed, imperturbably.
"And now," he said, "I will tell you what I know. I found the secret of the door mechanism even as you did, Dr. Goodwin. But by carelessness, my condensers were broken. I was forced to wait while I sent for others--and the waiting might be for months. I took certain precautions, and on the first night of this full moon I hid myself within the vault of Chau-ta-leur."
An involuntary thrill of admiration for the man went through me at the manifest heroism of this leap in the dark. I could see it reflected in Larry's face.
"I hid in the vault," continued Marakinoff, "and I saw that which comes from here come out. I waited--long hours. At last, when the moon was low, it returned--ecstatically-with a man, a native, in embrace enfolded. It passed through the door, and soon then the moon became low and the door closed.
"The next night more confidence was mine, yes. And after that which comes had gone, I looked through its open door. I said, "It will not return for three hours. While it is away, why shall I not into its home go through the door it has left open?' So I went--even to here. I looked at the pillars of light and I tested the liquid of the Pool on which they fell. That liquid, Dr. Goodwin, is not water, and it is not any fluid known on earth." He handed me a small vial, its neck held in a long thong."Take this," he said, "and see."
Wonderingly, I took the bottle; dipped it down into the Pool. The liquid was extraordinarily light; seemed, in fact, to give the vial buoyancy. I held it to the light. It was striated, streaked, as though little living, pulsing veins ran through it. And its blueness, even in the vial, held an intensity of luminousness.
"Radioactive," said Marakinoff. "Some liquid that is intensely radioactive; but what it is I know not at all. Upon the living skin it acts like radium raised to the nth power and with an element most mysterious added. The solution with which I treated him," he pointed to Huldricksson, "I had prepared before I came here, from certain information I had. It is largely salts of radium and its base is Loeb's formula for the neutralization of radium and X-ray burns. Taking this man at once, before the degeneration had become really active, I could negative it. But after two hours I could have done nothing."He paused a moment.
"Next I studied the nature of these luminous walls. I concluded that whoever had made them, knew the secret of the Almighty's manufacture of light from the ether itself! Colossal! Da! But the substance of these blocks confines an atomic--how would you say
-atomic manipulation, a conscious arrangement of electrons, light-emitting and perhaps indefinitely so. These blocks are lamps in which oil and wick are electrons drawing light waves from ether itself! A Prometheus, indeed, this discoverer! I looked at my watch and that little guardian warned me that it was time to go. I went. That which comes forth returned--this time emptyhanded.
"And the next night I did the same thing. Engrossed in research, I let the moments go by to the danger point, and scarcely was I replaced within the vault when the shining thing raced over the walls, and in its grip the woman and child"Then you came--and that is all. And now--what is it you know?"
Very briefly I went over my story. His eyes gleamed now and then, but he did not interrupt me.
"A great secret! A colossal secret!" he muttered, when I had ended. "We cannot leave it hidden."
"Nevertheless we'll try," said Larry. We retraced our way through the winding tunnel to the end, but soon even O'Keefe saw that any idea of moving the slab from within was hopeless. We returned to the Chamber of the Pool. The pillars of light were fainter, and we knew that the moon was sinking. On the world outside before long dawn would be breaking. I began to feel thirst--and the blue semblance of water within the silvery rim seemed to glint mockingly as my eyes rested on it."Da!" it was Marakinoff, reading my thoughts uncannily. "Da! We will be thirsty. And it will be very bad for him of us who loses control and drinks of that, my friend. Da!" Larry threw back his shoulders as though shaking a burden from them.
"This place would give an angel of joy the willies," he said. "I suggest that we look around and find something that will take us somewhere. You can bet the people that built it had more ways of getting in than that once-a-month family entrance. Doc, you and Olaf take the left wall; the professor and I will take the right."He loosened one of his automatics with a suggestive movement. "After you, Professor," he bowed, politely, to the Russian. We parted and set forth.
The chamber widened out from the portal in what seemed to be the arc of an immense circle. The shining walls held a perceptible curve, and from this curvature I estimated that the roof was fully three hundred feet above us.
The floor was of smooth, mosaic-fitted blocks of a faintly yellow tinge. They were not light-emitting like the blocks that formed the walls. The radiance from these latter, I noted, had the peculiar quality of THICKENING a few yards from its source, and it was this that produced the effect of misty, veiled distances. As we walked, the seven columns of rays streaming down from the crystalline globes high above us waned steadily; the glow within the chamber lost its prismatic shimmer and became an even grey tone somewhat like moonlight in a thin cloud.
Now before us, out from the wall, jutted a low terrace. It was all of a pearly rose-coloured stone, slender, graceful pillars of the same hue. The face of the terrace was about ten feet high, and all over it ran a bas-relief of what looked like short-trailing vines, surmounted by five stalks, on the tip of each of which was a flower.
We passed along the terrace. It turned in an abrupt curve. I heard a hail, and there, fifty feet away, at the curving end of a wall identical with that where we stood, were Larry and Marakinoff. Obviously the left side of the chamber was a duplicate of that we had explored. We joined. In front of us the columned barriers ran back a hundred feet, forming an alcove. The end of this alcove was another wall of the same rose stone, but upon it the design of vines was much heavier.
We took a step forward--there was a gasp of awe from the Norseman, a guttural exclamation from Marakinoff. For on, or rather within, the wall before us, a great oval began to glow, waxed almost to a flame and then shone steadily out as though from behind it a light was streaming through the stone itself!
And within the roseate oval two flame-tipped shadows appeared, stood for a moment, and then seemed to float out upon its surface. The shadows wavered; the tips of flame that nimbused them with flickering points of vermilion pulsed outward, drew back, darted forth again, and once more withdrew themselves--and as they did so the shadows thickened--and suddenly there before us stood two figures!
One was a girl--a girl whose great eyes were golden as the fabled lilies of Kwan-Yung that were born of the kiss of the sun upon the amber goddess the demons of Lao-Tz'e carved for him; whose softly curved lips were red as the royal coral, and whose goldenbrown hair reached to her knees!
And the second was a gigantic frog--A WOMAN frog, head helmeted with carapace of shell around which a fillet of brilliant yellow jewels shone; enormous round eyes of blue circled with a broad iris of green; monstrous body of banded orange and white girdled with strand upon strand of the flashing yellow gems; six feet high if an inch, and with one webbed paw of its short, powerfully muscled forelegs resting upon the white shoulder of the golden-eyed girl!
Moments must have passed as we stood in stark amazement, gazing at that incredible apparition. The two figures, although as real as any of those who stood beside me, unphantomlike as it is possible to be, had a distinct suggestion of--projection.
They were there before us--golden-eyed girl and grotesque frog-woman--complete in every line and curve; and still it was as though their bodies passed back through distances; as though, to try to express the wellnigh inexpressible, the two shapes we were looking upon were the end of an infinite number stretching in fine linked chain far away, of which the eyes saw only the nearest, while in the brain some faculty higher than sight recognized and registered the unseen others.
The gigantic eyes of the frog-woman took us all in-unwinkingly. Little glints of phosphorescence shone out within the metallic green of the outer iris ring. She stood upright, her great legs bowed; the monstrous slit of a mouth slightly open, revealing a row of white teeth sharp and pointed as lancets; the paw resting on the girl's shoulder, half covering its silken surface, and from its five webbed digits long yellow claws of polished horn glistened against the delicate texture of the flesh.
But if the frog-woman regarded us all, not so did the maiden of the rosy wall. Her eyes were fastened upon Larry, drinking him in with extraordinary intentness. She was tall, far over the average of women, almost as tall, indeed, as O'Keefe himself; not more than twenty years old, if that, I thought. Abruptly she leaned forward, the golden eyes softened and grew tender; the red lips moved as though she were speaking.
Larry took a quick step, and his face was that of one who after countless births comes at last upon the twin soul lost to him for ages. The frog-woman turned her eyes upon the girl; her huge lips moved, and I knew that she was talking! The girl held out a warning hand to O'Keefe, and then raised it, resting each finger upon one of the five flowers of the carved vine close beside her. Once, twice, three times, she pressed upon the flower centres, and I noted that her hand was curiously long and slender, the digits like those wonderful tapering ones the painters we call the primitive gave to their Virgins.
Three times she pressed the flowers, and then looked intently at Larry once more. A slow, sweet smile curved the crimson lips. She stretched both hands out toward him again eagerly; a burning blush rose swiftly over white breasts and flowerlike face.Like the clicking out of a cinematograph, the pulsing oval faded and golden-eyed girl and frog-woman were gone! And thus it was that Lakla, the handmaiden of the Silent Ones, and Larry O'Keefe first looked into each other's hearts! Larry stood rapt, gazing at the stone. "Eilidh," I heard him whisper; "Eilidh of the lips like the red, red rowan and the goldenbrown hair!" "Clearly of the Ranadae," said Marakinoff, "a development of the fossil Labyrinthodonts: you saw her teeth, da?" "Ranadae, yes," I answered. "But from the Stegocephalia; of the order Ecaudata--" Never such a complete indignation as was in O'Keefe's voice as he interrupted. "What do you mean--fossils and Stego whatever it is?" he asked. "She was a girl, a wonder girl--a real girl, and Irish, or I'm not an O'Keefe!" "We were talking about the frog-woman, Larry," I said, conciliatingly.
His eyes were wild as he regarded us. "Say," he said, "if you two had been in the Garden of Eden when Eve took the apple, you wouldn't have had time to give her a look for counting the scales on the snake!"He strode swiftly over to the wall. We followed. Larry paused, stretched his hand up to the flowers on which the tapering fingers of the golden-eyed girl had rested.
"It was here she put up her hand," he murmured. He pressed caressingly the carved calyxes, once, twice, a third time even as she had--and silently and softly the wall began to split; on each side a great stone pivoted slowly, and before us a portal stood, opening into a narrow corridor glowing with the same rosy lustre that had gleamed around the flame-tipped shadows!"Have your gun ready, Olaf!" said Larry. "We follow Golden Eyes," he said to me. "Follow?" I echoed stupidly. "Follow!" he said. "She came to show us the way! Follow? I'd follow her through a thousand hells!" And with Olaf at one end, O'Keefe at the other, both of them with automatics in hand, and Marakinoff and I between them, we stepped over the threshold.
At our right, a few feet away, the passage ended abruptly in a square of polished stone, from which came faint rose radiance. The roof of the place was less than two feet over O'Keefe's head.
A yard at left of us lifted a four-foot high, gently curved barricade, stretching from wall to wall--and beyond it was blackness; an utter and appalling blackness that seemed to gather itself from infinite depths. The rose-glow in which we stood was cut off by the blackness as though it had substance; it shimmered out to meet it, and was checked as though by a blow; indeed, so strong was the suggestion of sinister, straining force within the rayless opacity that I shrank back, and Marakinoff with me. Not so O'Keefe. Olaf beside him, he strode to the wall and peered over. He beckoned us.
"Flash your pocket-light down there," be said to me, pointing into the thick darkness below us. The little electric circle quivered down as though afraid, and came to rest upon a surface that resembled nothing so much as clear, black ice. I ran the light across--here and there. The floor of the corridor was of a substance so smooth, so polished, that no man could have walked upon it; it sloped downward at a slowly increasing angle.
"We'd have to have non-skid chains and brakes on our feet to tackle that," mused Larry. Abstractedly be ran his hands over the edge on which he was leaning. Suddenly they hesitated and then gripped tightly.
"That's a queer one!" he exclaimed. His right palm was resting upon a rounded protuberance, on the side of which were three small circular indentations.
There was a sharp click; the slabs that had opened to let us through swung swiftly together; a curiously rapid vibration thrilled through us, a wind arose and passed over our heads--a wind that grew and grew until it became a whistling shriek, then a roar and then a mighty humming, to which every atom in our bodies pulsed in rhythm painful almost to disintegration!The rosy wall dwindled in a flash to a point of light and disappeared! Wrapped in the clinging, impenetrable blackness we were racing, dropping, hurling at a frightful speed--where?
And ever that awful humming of the rushing wind and the lightning cleaving of the tangible dark--so, it came to me oddly, must the newly released soul race through the sheer blackness of outer space up to that Throne of Justice, where God sits high above all suns!
I felt Marakinoff creep close to me; gripped my nerve and flashed my pocket-light; saw Larry standing, peering, peering ahead, and Huldricksson, one strong arm around his shoulders, bracing him. And then the speed began to slacken.Millions of miles, it seemed, below the sound of the unearthly hurricane I heard Larry's voice, thin and ghostlike, beneath its clamour. "Got it!" shrilled the voice. "Got it! Don't worry!" The wind died down to the roar, passed back into the whistling shriek and diminished to a steady whisper. In the comparative quiet O'Keefe's tones now came in normal volume.
"Some little shoot-the-chutes, what?" he shouted. "Say-if they had this at Coney Island or the Crystal Palace! Press all the way in these holes and she goes top-high. Diminish pressure--diminish speed. The curve of this--dashboard-here sends the wind shooting up over our heads--like a windshield. What's behind you?"I flashed the light back. The mechanism on which we were ended in another wall exactly similar to that over which O'Keefe crouched. "Well, we can't fall out, anyway," he laughed. "Wish to hell I knew where the brakes were! Look out!"
We dropped dizzily down an abrupt, seemingly endless slope; fell--fell as into an abyss-then shot abruptly out of the blackness into a throbbing green radiance. O'Keefe's fingers must have pressed down upon the controls, for we leaped forward almost with the speed of light. I caught a glimpse of luminous immensities on the verge of which we flew; of depths inconceivable, and flitting through the incredible spaces--gigantic shadows as of the wings of Israfel, which are so wide, say the Arabs, the world can cower under them like a nestling--and then--again the living blackness!"What was that?" This from Larry, with the nearest approach to awe that he had yet shown. "Trolldom!" croaked the voice of Olaf. "Chert!" This from Marakinoff. "What a space!"
"Have you considered, Dr. Goodwin," be went on after a pause, "a curious thing? We know, or, at least, is it not that nine out of ten astronomers believe, that the moon was hurled out of this same region we now call the Pacific when the earth was yet like molasses; almost molten, I should say. And is it not curious that that which comes from the Moon Chamber needs the moon-rays to bring it forth; is it not? And is it not significant again that the stone depends upon the moon for operating? Da! And last--such a space in mother earth as we just glimpsed, how else could it have been torn but by some gigantic birth--like that of the moon? Da! I do not put forward these as statements of fact
-no! But as suggestions--"
I started; there was so much that this might explain--an unknown element that responded to the moon-rays in opening the moon door; the blue Pool with its weird radioactivity, and the force within it that reacted to the same light stream- It was not inconceivable that a film had drawn over the world wound, a film of earth-flesh which drew itself over that colossal abyss after our planet had borne its satellite-that world womb did not close when her shining child sprang forth--it was possible; and all that we know of earth depth is four miles of her eight thousand.
What is there at the heart of earth? What of that radiant unknown element upon the moon mount Tycho? What of that element unknown to us as part of earth which is seen only in the corona of the sun at eclipse that we call coronium? Yet the earth is child of the sun as the moon is earth's daughter. And what of that other unknown element we find glowing green in the far-flung nebulae--green as that we had just passed through--and that we call nebulium? Yet the sun is child of the nebulae as the earth is child of the sun and the moon is child of the earth.And what miracles are there in coronium and nebulium which, as the child of nebula and sun, we inherit? Yes--and in Tycho's enigma which came from earth heart? We were flashing down to earth heart! And what miracles were hidden there?
Chapter 12. The End Of The Journey
"SAY DOC!" It was Larry's voice flung back at me. "I was thinking about that frog. I think it was her pet. Damn me if I see any difference between a frog and a snake, and one of the nicest women I ever knew had two pet pythons that followed her around like kittens. Not such a devilish lot of choice between a frog and a snake--except on the side of the frog? What? Anyway, any pet that girl wants is hers, I don't care if it's a leaping twelve-toed lobster or a whalebodied scorpion. Get me?"By which I knew that our remarks upon the frog woman were still bothering O'Keefe.
"He thinks of foolish nothings like the foolish sailor!" grunted Marakinoff, acid contempt in his words. "What are their women to--this?" He swept out a hand and as though at a signal the car poised itself for an instant, then dipped, literally dipped down into sheer space; skimmed forward in what was clearly curved flight, rose as upon a sweeping upgrade and then began swiftly to slacken its fearful speed.
Far ahead a point of light showed; grew steadily; we were within it--and softly all movement ceased. How acute had been the strain of our journey I did not realize until I tried to stand--and sank back, leg-muscles too shaky to bear my weight. The car rested in a slit in the centre of a smooth walled chamber perhaps twenty feet square. The wall facing us was pierced by a low doorway through which we could see a flight of steps leading downward.
The light streamed through a small opening, the base of which was twice a tall man's height from the floor. A curving flight of broad, low steps led up to it. And now it came to my steadying brain that there was something puzzling, peculiar, strangely unfamiliar about this light. It was silvery, shaded faintly with a delicate blue and flushed lightly with a nacreous rose; but a rose that differed from that of the terraces of the Pool Chamber as the rose within the opal differs from that within the pearl. In it were tiny, gleaming points like the motes in a sunbeam, but sparkling white like the dust of diamonds, and with a quality of vibrant vitality; they were as though they were alive. The light cast no shadows!
A little breeze came through the oval and played about us. It was laden with what seemed the mingled breath of spice flowers and pines. It was curiously vivifying, and in it the diamonded atoms of light shook and danced.
I stepped out of the car, the Russian following, and began to ascend the curved steps toward the opening, at the top of which O'Keefe and Olaf already stood. As they looked out I saw both their faces change--Olaf's with awe, O'Keefe's with incredulous amaze. I hurried to their side.
At first all that I could see was space--a space filled with the same coruscating effulgence that pulsed about me. I glanced upward, obeying that instinctive impulse of earth folk that bids them seek within the sky for sources of light. There was no sky--at least no sky such as we know--all was a sparkling nebulosity rising into infinite distances as the azure above the day-world seems to fill all the heavens-through it ran pulsing waves and flashing javelin rays that were like shining shadows of the aurora; echoes, octaves lower, of those brilliant arpeggios and chords that play about the poles. My eyes fell beneath its splendour; I stared outward.
Miles away, gigantic luminous cliffs sprang sheer from the limits of a lake whose waters were of milky opalescence. It was from these cliffs that the spangled radiance came, shimmering out from all their lustrous surfaces. To left and to right, as far as the eye could see, they stretched--and they vanished in the auroral nebulosity on high!
"Look at that!" exclaimed Larry. I followed his pointing finger. On the face of the shining wall, stretched between two colossal columns, hung an incredible veil; prismatic, gleaming with all the colours of the spectrum. It was like a web of rainbows woven by the fingers of the daughters of the Jinn. In front of it and a little at each side was a semicircular pier, or, better, a plaza of what appeared to be glistening, pale-yellow ivory. At each end of its half-circle clustered a few low-walled, rose-stone structures, each of them surmounted by a number of high, slender pinnacles.
We looked at each other, I think, a bit helplessly--and back again through the opening. We were standing, as I have said, at its base. The wall in which it was set was at least ten feet thick, and so, of course, all that we could see of that which was without were the distances that revealed themselves above the outer ledge of the oval."Let's take a look at what's under us," said Larry.
He crept out upon the ledge and peered down, the rest of us following. A hundred yards beneath us stretched gardens that must have been like those of many-columned Iram, which the ancient Addite King had built for his pleasure ages before the deluge, and which Allah, so the Arab legend tells, took and hid from man, within the Sahara, beyond all hope of finding--jealous because they were more beautiful than his in paradise. Within them flowers and groves of laced, fernlike trees, pillared pavilions nestled.
The trunks of the trees were of emerald, of vermilion, and of azure-blue, and the blossoms, whose fragrance was borne to us, shone like jewels. The graceful pillars were tinted delicately. I noted that the pavilions were double--in a way, two-storied--and that they were oddly splotched with circles, with squares, and with oblongs of--opacity; noted too that over many this opacity stretched like a roof; yet it did not seem material; rather was it--impenetrable shadow!
Down through this city of gardens ran a broad shining green thoroughfare, glistening like glass and spanned at regular intervals with graceful, arched bridges. The road flashed to a wide square, where rose, from a base of that same silvery stone that formed the lip of the Moon Pool, a titanic structure of seven terraces; and along it flitted objects that bore a curious resemblance to the shell of the Nautilus. Within them were--human figures! And upon tree-bordered promenades on each side walked others!Far to the right we caught the glint of another emeraldpaved road. And between the two the gardens grew sweetly down to the hither side of that opalescent water across which were the radiant cliffs and the curtain of mystery.
Thus it was that we first saw the city of the Dweller; blessed and accursed as no place on earth, or under or above earth has ever been--or, that force willing which some call God, ever again shall be!"Chert!" whispered Marakinoff. "Incredible!" "Trolldom!" gasped Olaf Huldricksson. "It is Trolldom!"
"Listen, Olaf!" said Larry. "Cut out that Trolldom stuff! There's no Trolldom, or fairies, outside Ireland. Get that! And this isn't Ireland. And, buck up, Professor!" This to Marakinoff. "What you see down there are people--JUST PLAIN PEOPLE. And wherever there's people is where I live. Get me?
"There's no way in but in--and no way out but out," said O'Keefe. "And there's the stairway. Eggs are eggs no matter how they're cooked--and people are just people, fellow travellers, no matter what dish they are in," he concluded. "Come on!"With the three of us close behind him, he marched toward the entrance.
Chapter 13. Yolara, Priestess Of The Shining One"YOU'D better have this handy, Doc." O'Keefe paused at the head of the stairway and handed me one of the automatics he had taken from Marakinoff. "Shall I not have one also?" rather anxiously asked the latter.
"When you need it you'll get it," answered O'Keefe. "I'll tell you frankly, though, Professor, that you'll have to show me before I trust you with a gun. You shoot too straight-from cover."The flash of anger in the Russian's eyes turned to a cold consideration.
"You say always just what is in your mind, Lieutenant O'Keefe," he mused. "Da--that I shall remember!" Later I was to recall this odd observation--and Marakinoff was to remember indeed.
In single file, O'Keefe at the head and Olaf bringing up the rear, we passed through the portal. Before us dropped a circular shaft, into which the light from the chamber of the oval streamed liquidly; set in its sides the steps spiralled, and down them we went, cautiously. The stairway ended in a circular well; silent--with no trace of exit! The rounded stones joined each other evenly--hermetically. Carved on one of the slabs was one of the five flowered vines. I pressed my fingers upon the calyxes, even as Larry had within the Moon Chamber.
A crack--horizontal, four feet wide--appeared on the wall; widened, and as the sinking slab that made it dropped to the level of our eyes, we looked through a hundred-feetlong rift in the living rock! The stone fell steadily--and we saw that it was a Cyclopean wedge set within the slit of the passageway. It reached the level of our feet and stopped. At the far end of this tunnel, whose floor was the polished rock that had, a moment before, fitted hermetically into its roof, was a low, narrow triangular opening through which light streamed.
"Nowhere to go but out!" grinned Larry. "And I'll bet Golden Eyes is waiting for us with a taxi!" He stepped forward. We followed, slipping, sliding along the glassy surface; and I, for one, had a lively apprehension of what our fate would be should that enormous mass rise before we had emerged! We reached the end; crept out of the narrow triangle that was its exit.
We stood upon a wide ledge carpeted with a thick yellow moss. I looked behind--and clutched O'Keefe's arm. The door through which we had come had vanished! There was only a precipice of pale rock, on whose surfaces great patches of the amber moss hung; around whose base our ledge ran, and whose summits, if summits it had, were hidden, like the luminous cliffs, in the radiance above us.
"Nowhere to go but ahead--and Golden Eyes hasn't kept her date!" laughed O'Keefe--but somewhat grimly.
We walked a few yards along the ledge and, rounding a corner, faced the end of one of the slender bridges. From this vantage point the oddly shaped vehicles were plain, and we could see they were, indeed, like the shell of the Nautilus and elfinly beautiful. Their drivers sat high upon the forward whorl. Their bodies were piled high with cushions, upon which lay women half-swathed in gay silken webs. From the pavilioned gardens smaller channels of glistening green ran into the broad way, much as automobile runways do on earth; and in and out of them flashed the fairy shells.
There came a shout from one. Its occupants had glimpsed us. They pointed; others stopped and stared; one shell turned and sped up a runway--and quickly over the other side of the bridge came a score of men. They were dwarfed--none of them more than five feet high, prodigiously broad of shoulder, clearly enormously powerful."Trolde!" muttered Olaf, stepping beside O'Keefe, pistol swinging free in his hand.
But at the middle of the bridge the leader stopped, waved back his men, and came toward us alone, palms outstretched in the immemorial, universal gesture of truce. He paused, scanning us with manifest wonder; we returned the scrutiny with interest. The dwarf's face was as white as Olaf's--far whiter than those of the other three of us; the features cleancut and noble, almost classical; the wide set eyes of a curious greenish grey and the black hair curling over his head like that on some old Greek statue.
Dwarfed though he was, there was no suggestion of deformity about him. The gigantic shoulders were covered with a loose green tunic that looked like fine linen. It was caught in at the waist by a broad girdle studded with what seemed to be amazonites. In it was thrust a long curved poniard resembling the Malaysian kris. His legs were swathed in the same green cloth as the upper garment. His feet were sandalled.
My gaze returned to his face, and in it I found something subtly disturbing; an expression of half-malicious gaiety that underlay the wholly prepossessing features like a vague threat; a mocking deviltry that hinted at entire callousness to suffering or sorrow; something of the spirit that was vaguely alien and disquieting.
He spoke--and, to my surprise, enough of the words were familiar to enable me clearly to catch the meaning of the whole. They were Polynesian, the Polynesian of the Samoans which is its most ancient form, but in some indefinable way-archaic. Later I was to know that the tongue bore the same relation to the Polynesian of today as does NOT that of Chaucer, but of the Venerable Bede, to modern English. Nor was this to be so astonishing, when with the knowledge came the certainty that it was from it the language we call Polynesian sprang.
"From whence do you come, strangers--and how found you your way here?" said the green dwarf.
I waved my hand toward the cliff behind us. His eyes narrowed incredulously; he glanced at its drop, upon which even a mountain goat could not have made its way, and laughed.
"It closed behind us," I answered; and then, for the first time, realized how incredible the explanation sounded. The derisive gleam passed through his eyes again. But he drew his poniard and gravely sounded the rock.
"You give a strange turn to our speech," he said. "It sounds strangely, indeed--as strange as your answers." He looked at us quizzically. "I wonder where you learned it! Well, all that you can explain to the Afyo Maie." His head bowed and his arms swept out in a wide salaam. "Be pleased to come with me!" he ended abruptly."In peace?" I asked. "In peace," he replied--then slowly--"with me at least."
"Oh, come on, Doc!" cried Larry. "As long as we're here let's see the sights. Allons mon vieux!" he called gaily to the green dwarf. The latter, understanding the spirit, if not the words, looked at O'Keefe with a twinkle of approval; turned then to the great Norseman and scanned him with admiration; reached out and squeezed one of the immense biceps.
"Lugur will welcome you, at least," he murmured as though to himself. He stood aside and waved a hand courteously, inviting us to pass. We crossed. At the base of the span one of the elfin shells was waiting.
Beyond, scores had gathered, their occupants evidently discussing us in much excitement. The green dwarf waved us to the piles of cushions and then threw himself beside us. The vehicle started off smoothly, the now silent throng making way, and swept down the green roadway at a terrific pace and wholly without vibration, toward the seven-terraced tower.
As we flew along I tried to discover the source of the power, but I could not--then. There was no sign of mechanism, but that the shell responded to some form of energy was certain--the driver grasping a small lever which seemed to control not only our speed, but our direction.
We turned abruptly and swept up a runway through one of the gardens, and stopped softly before a pillared pavilion. I saw now that these were much larger than I had thought. The structure to which we had been carried covered, I estimated, fully an acre. Oblong, with its slender, vari-coloured columns spaced regularly, its walls were like the sliding screens of the Japanese--shoji.
The green dwarf hurried us up a flight of broad steps flanked by great carved serpents, winged and scaled. He stamped twice upon mosaicked stones between two of the pillars, and a screen rolled aside, revealing an immense hall scattered about with low divans on which lolled a dozen or more of the dwarfish men, dressed identically as he.
They sauntered up to us leisurely; the surprised interest in their faces tempered by the same inhumanly gay malice that seemed to be characteristic of all these people we had as yet seen."The Afyo Maie awaits them, Rador," said one.
The green dwarf nodded, beckoned us, and led the way through the great hall and into a smaller chamber whose far side was covered with the opacity I had noted from the aerie of the cliff. I examined the--blackness--with lively interest.
It had neither substance nor texture; it was not matter-and yet it suggested solidity; an entire cessation, a complete absorption of light; an ebon veil at once immaterial and palpable. I stretched, involuntarily, my hand out toward it, and felt it quickly drawn back."Do you seek your end so soon?" whispered Rador. "But I forget--you do not know," he added. "On your life touch not the blackness, ever. It--"
He stopped, for abruptly in the density a portal appeared; swinging out of the shadow like a picture thrown by a lantern upon a screen. Through it was revealed a chamber filled with a soft rosy glow. Rising from cushioned couches, a woman and a man regarded us, half leaning over a long, low table of what seemed polished jet, laden with flowers and unfamiliar fruits.
About the room--that part of it, at least, that I could see-were a few oddly shaped chairs of the same substance. On high, silvery tripods three immense globes stood, and it was from them that the rose glow emanated. At the side of the woman was a smaller globe whose roseate gleam was tempered by quivering waves of blue.
"Enter Rador with the strangers!" a clear, sweet voice called. Rador bowed deeply and stood aside, motioning us to pass. We entered, the green dwarf behind us, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the doorway fade as abruptly as it had appeared and again the dense shadow fill its place."Come closer, strangers. Be not afraid!" commanded the bell-toned voice. We approached.
The woman, sober scientist that I am, made the breath catch in my throat. Never had I seen a woman so beautiful as was Yolara of the Dweller's city--and none of so perilous a beauty. Her hair was of the colour of the young tassels of the corn and coiled in a regal crown above her broad, white brows; her wide eyes were of grey that could change to a cornflower blue and in anger deepen to purple; grey or blue, they had little laughing devils within them, but when the storm of anger darkened them--they were not laughing, no! The silken webs that half covered, half revealed her did not hide the ivory whiteness of her flesh nor the sweet curve of shoulders and breasts. But for all her amazing beauty, she was--sinister! There was cruelty about the curving mouth, and in the music of her voice--not conscious cruelty, but the more terrifying, careless cruelty of nature itself.
The girl of the rose wall had been beautiful, yes! But her beauty was human, understandable. You could imagine her with a babe in her arms--but you could not so imagine this woman. About her loveliness hovered something unearthly. A sweet feminine echo of the Dweller was Yolara, the Dweller's priestess--and as gloriously, terrifyingly evil!
Chapter 14. The Justice Of Lora
AS I LOOKED at her the man arose and made his way round the table toward us. For the first time my eyes took in Lugur. A few inches taller than the green dwarf, he was far broader, more filled with the suggestion of appalling strength.
The tremendous shoulders were four feet wide if an inch, tapering down to mighty thewed thighs. The muscles of his chest stood out beneath his tunic of red. Around his forehead shone a chaplet of bright-blue stones, sparkling among the thick curls of his silver-ash hair.
Upon his face pride and ambition were written large-and power still larger. All the mockery, the malice, the hint of callous indifference that I had noted in the other dwarfish men were there, too--but intensified, touched with the satanic.The woman spoke again. "Who are you strangers, and how came you here?" She turned to Rador. "Or is it that they do not understand our tongue?" "One understands and speaks it--but very badly, O Yolara," answered the green dwarf. "Speak, then, that one of you," she commanded. But it was Marakinoff who found his voice first, and I marvelled at the fluency, so much greater than mine, with which he spoke. "We came for different purposes. I to seek knowledge of a kind; he"--pointing to me "of another. This man"--he looked at Olaf--"to find a wife and child." The grey-blue eyes had been regarding O'Keefe steadily and with plainly increasing interest. "And why did YOU come?" she asked him. "Nay--I would have him speak for himself, if he can," she stilled Marakinoff peremptorily. When Larry spoke it was haltingly, in the tongue that was strange to him, searching for the proper words.
"I came to help these men--and because something I could not then understand called me, O lady, whose eyes are like forest pools at dawn," he answered; and even in the unfamiliar words there was a touch of the Irish brogue, and little merry lights danced in the eyes Larry had so apostrophized.
"I could find fault with your speech, but none with its burden," she said. "What forest pools are I know not, and the dawn has not shone upon the people of Lora these many sais of laya.1 But I sense what you mean!"
*1 Later I was to find that Murian reckoning rested upon the extraordinary increased luminosity of the cliffs at the time of full moon on earth--this action, to my mind, being linked either with the effect of the light streaming globes upon the Moon Pool, whose source was in the shining cliffs, or else upon some mysterious affinity of their radiant element with the flood of moonlight on earth--the latter, most probably, because even when the moon must have been clouded above, it made no difference in the phenomenon. Thirteen of these shinings forth constituted a laya, one of them a lat. Ten was sa; ten times ten times ten a said, or thousand; ten times a thousand was a sais. A sais of laya was then literally ten thousand years. What we would call an hour was by them called a va. The whole time system was, of course, a mingling of time as it had been known to their remote, surfacedwelling ancestors, and the peculiar determining factors in the vast cavern.The eyes deepened to blue as she regarded him. She smiled. "Are there many like you in the world from which you come?" she asked softly. "Well, we soon shall--" Lugur interrupted her almost rudely and glowering. "Best we should know how they came hence," he growled. She darted a quick look at him, and again the little devils danced in her wondrous eyes.
Unquestionably there is a subtle difference between time as we know it and time in this subterranean land--its progress there being slower. This, however, is only in accord with the well-known doctrine of relativity, which predicates both space and time as necessary inventions of the human mind to orient itself to the conditions under which it finds itself. I tried often to measure this difference, but could never do so to my entire satisfaction. The closest I can come to it is to say that an hour of our time is the equivalent of an hour and five-eighths in Muria. For further information upon this matter of relativity the reader may consult any of the numerous books upon the subject.-W. T. G."Yes, that is true," she said. "How came you here?" Again it was Marakinoff who answered--slowly, considering every word.
"In the world above," he said, "there are ruins of cities not built by any of those who now dwell there. To us these places called, and we sought for knowledge of the wise ones who made them. We found a passageway. The way led us downward to a door in yonder cliff, and through it we came here."
"Then have you found what you sought?" spoke she. "For we are of those who built the cities. But this gateway in the rock--where is it?"
"It is the truth," I interposed. "We came down the passage. At its end was a carved vine, a vine of five flowers"--the fire died from the red dwarf's eyes, and I could have sworn to a swift pallor. "I rested a hand upon these flowers, and a door opened. But when we had gone through it and turned, behind us was nothing but unbroken cliff. The door had vanished."
I had taken my cue from Marakinoff. If he had eliminated the episode of car and Moon Pool, he had good reason, I had no doubt; and I would be as cautious. And deep within me something cautioned me to say nothing of my quest; to stifle all thought of Throckmartin--something that warned, peremptorily, finally, as though it were a message from Throckmartin himself!"A vine with five flowers!" exclaimed the red dwarf. "Was it like this, say?"
He thrust forward a long arm. Upon the thumb of the hand was an immense ring, set with a dull-blue stone. Graven on the face of the jewel was the symbol of the rosy walls of the Moon Chamber that had opened to us their two portals. But cut over the vine were seven circles, one about each of the flowers and two larger ones covering, intersecting them."This is the same," I said; "but these were not there"-I indicated the circles. The woman drew a deep breath and looked deep into Lugur's eyes. "The sign of the Silent Ones!" he half whispered.
It was the woman who first recovered herself. "The strangers are weary, Lugur," she said. "When they are rested they shall show where the rocks opened."
I sensed a subtle change in their attitude toward us; a new intentness; a doubt plainly tinged with apprehension. What was it they feared? Why had the symbol of the vine wrought the change? And who or what were the Silent Ones?
Yolara's eyes turned to Olaf, hardened, and grew cold grey. Subconsciously I had noticed that from the first the Norseman had been absorbed in his regard of the pair; had, indeed, never taken his gaze from them; had noticed, too, the priestess dart swift glances toward him.He returned her scrutiny fearlessly, a touch of contempt in the clear eyes--like a child watching a snake which he did not dread, but whose danger be well knew. Under that look Yolara stirred impatiently, sensing, I know, its meaning. "Why do you look at me so?" she cried. An expression of bewilderment passed over Olaf's face. "I do not understand," he said in English. I caught a quickly repressed gleam in O'Keefe's eyes. He knew, as I knew, that Olaf must have understood. But did Marakinoff? Apparently he did not. But why was Olaf feigning ignorance?
"This man is a sailor from what we call the North," thus Larry haltingly. "He is crazed, I think. He tells a strange tale of a something of cold fire that took his wife and babe. We found him wandering where we were. And because he is strong we brought him with us. That is all, O lady, whose voice is sweeter than the honey of the wild bees!""A shape of cold fire?" she repeated. "A shape of cold fire that whirled beneath the moon, with the sound of little bells," answered Larry, watching her intently. She looked at Lugur and laughed. "Then he, too, is fortunate," she said. "For he has come to the place of his something of cold fire--and tell him that he shall join his wife and child, in time; that I promise him."
Upon the Norseman's face there was no hint of comprehension, and at that moment I formed an entirely new opinion of Olaf's intelligence; for certainly it must have been a prodigious effort of the will, indeed, that enabled him, understanding, to control himself. "What does she say?" he asked.Larry repeated. "Good!" said Olaf. "Good!"
He looked at Yolara with well-assumed gratitude. Lugur, who had been scanning his bulk, drew close. He felt the giant muscles which Huldricksson accommodatingly flexed for him."But he shall meet Valdor and Tahola before he sees those kin of his," he laughed mockingly. "And if he bests them-for reward--his wife and babe!" A shudder, quickly repressed, shook the seaman's frame. The woman bent her supremely beautiful head.
"These two," she said, pointing to the Russian and to me, "seem to be men of learning. They may be useful. As for this man,"--she smiled at Larry--"I would have him explain to me some things." She hesitated. "What 'hon-ey of 'e wild bees-s' is." Larry had spoken the words in English, and she was trying to repeat them. "As for this man, the sailor, do as you please with him, Lugur; always remembering that I have given my word that he shall join that wife and babe of his!" She laughed sweetly, sinisterly. "And now--take them, Rador--give them food and drink and let them rest till we shall call them again."
She stretched out a hand toward O'Keefe. The Irishman bowed low over it, raised it softly to his lips. There was a vicious hiss from Lugur; but Yolara regarded Larry with eyes now all tender blue."You please me," she whispered. And the face of Lugur grew darker.
We turned to go. The rosy, azure-shot globe at her side suddenly dulled. From it came a faint bell sound as of chimes far away. She bent over it. It vibrated, and then its surface ran with little waves of dull colour; from it came a whispering so low that I could not distinguish the words--if words they were.She spoke to the red dwarf. "They have brought the three who blasphemed the Shining One," she said slowly. "Now it is in my mind to show these strangers the justice of Lora. What say you, Lugur?" The red dwarf nodded, his eyes sparkling with a malicious anticipation.
The woman spoke again to the globe. "Bring them here!" And again it ran swiftly with its film of colours, darkened, and shone rosy once more. From without there came a rustle of many feet upon the rugs. Yolara pressed a slender hand upon the base of the pedestal of the globe beside her. Abruptly the light faded from all, and on the same instant the four walls of blackness vanished, revealing on two sides the lovely, unfamiliar garden through the guarding rows of pillars; at our backs soft draperies hid what lay beyond; before us, flanked by flowered screens, was the corridor through which we had entered, crowded now by the green dwarfs of the great hall.
The dwarfs advanced. Each, I now noted, had the same clustering black hair of Rador. They separated, and from them stepped three figures--a youth of not more than twenty, short, but with the great shoulders of all the males we had seen of this race; a girl of seventeen, I judged, white-faced, a head taller than the boy, her long, black hair dishevelled; and behind these two a stunted, gnarled shape whose head was sunk deep between the enormous shoulders, whose white beard fell like that of some ancient gnome down to his waist, and whose eyes were a white flame of hate. The girl cast herself weeping at the feet of the priestess; the youth regarded her curiously."You are Songar of the Lower Waters?" murmured Yolara almost caressingly. "And this is your daughter and her lover?" The gnome nodded, the flame in his eyes leaping higher.
"It has come to me that you three have dared blaspheme the Shining One, its priestess, and its Voice," went on Yolara smoothly. "Also that you have called out to the three Silent Ones. Is it true?""Your spies have spoken--and have you not already judged us?" The voice of the old dwarf was bitter. A flicker shot through the eyes of Yolara, again cold grey. The girl reached a trembling hand out to the hem of the priestess's veils. "Tell us why you did these things, Songar," she said. "Why you did them, knowing full well what your--reward--would be." The dwarf stiffened; he raised his withered arms, and his eyes blazed.
"Because evil are your thoughts and evil are your deeds," he cried. "Yours and your lover's, there"--he levelled a finger at Lugur. "Because of the Shining One you have made evil, too, and the greater wickedness you contemplate-you and he with the Shining One. But I tell you that your measure of iniquity is full; the tale of your sin near ended! Yea-the Silent Ones have been patient, but soon they will speak." He pointed at us. "A sign are THEY--a warning-harlot!" He spat the word.
In Yolara's eyes, grown black, the devils leaped unrestrained. "Is it even so, Songar?" her voice caressed. "Now ask the Silent Ones to help you! They sit afar--but surely they will hear you." The sweet voice was mocking. "As for these two, they shall pray to the Shining One for forgiveness--and surely the Shining One will take them to its bosom! As for you--you have lived long enough, Songar! Pray to the Silent Ones, Songar, and pass out into the nothingness--you!"
She dipped down into her bosom and drew forth something that resembled a small cone of tarnished silver. She levelled it, a covering clicked from its base, and out of it darted a slender ray of intense green light.
It struck the old dwarf squarely over the heart, and spread swift as light itself, covering him with a gleaming, pale film. She clenched her hand upon the cone, and the ray disappeared. She thrust the cone back into her breast and leaned forward expectantly; so Lugur and so the other dwarfs. From the girl came a low wail of anguish; the boy dropped upon his knees, covering his face.
For the moment the white beard stood rigid; then the robe that had covered him seemed to melt away, revealing all the knotted, monstrous body. And in that body a vibration began, increasing to incredible rapidity. It wavered before us like a reflection in a still pond stirred by a sudden wind. It grew and grew--to a rhythm whose rapidity was intolerable to watch and that still chained the eyes.
The figure grew indistinct, misty. Tiny sparks in infinite numbers leaped from it--like, I thought, the radiant shower of particles hurled out by radium when seen under the microscope. Mistier still it grew--there trembled before us for a moment a faintly luminous shadow which held, here and there, tiny sparkling atoms like those that pulsed in the light about us! The glowing shadow vanished, the sparkling atoms were still for a moment--and shot away, joining those dancing others.Where the gnomelike form had been but a few seconds before--there was nothing! O'Keefe drew a long breath, and I was sensible of a prickling along my scalp. Yolara leaned toward us.
"You have seen," she said. Her eyes lingered tigerishly upon Olaf's pallid face. "Heed!" she whispered. She turned to the men in green, who were laughing softly among themselves."Take these two, and go!" she commanded. "The justice of Lora," said the red dwarf. "The justice of Lora and the Shining One under
Upon the utterance of the last word I saw Marakinoff start violently. The hand at his side made a swift, surreptitious gesture, so fleeting that I hardly caught it. The red dwarf stared at the Russian, and there was amazement upon his face.
And as, shaken to the core, we passed out into the garden into the full throbbing of the light, I wondered if all the tiny sparkling diamond points that shook about us had once been men like Songar of the Lower Waters--and felt my very soul grow sick!
Chapter 15. The Angry, Whispering Globe
OUR WAY led along a winding path between banked masses of softly radiant blooms, groups of feathery ferns whose plumes were starred with fragrant white and blue flowerets, slender creepers swinging from the branches of the strangely trunked trees, bearing along their threads orchid-like blossoms both delicately frail and gorgeously flamboyant.
The path we trod was an exquisite mosaic--pastel greens and pinks upon a soft grey base, garlands of nimbused forms like the flaming rose of the Rosicrucians held in the mouths of the flying serpents. A smaller pavilion arose before us, single-storied, front wide open.
Upon its threshold Rador paused, bowed deeply, and motioned us within. The chamber we entered was large, closed on two sides by screens of grey; at the back gay, concealing curtains. The low table of blue stone, dressed with fine white cloths, stretched at one side flanked by the cushioned divans.
At the left was a high tripod bearing one of the rosy globes we had seen in the house of Yolara; at the head of the table a smaller globe similar to the whispering one. Rador pressed upon its base, and two other screens slid into place across the entrance, shutting in the room.
He clapped his hands; the curtains parted, and two girls came through them. Tall and willow lithe, their bluish-black hair falling in ringlets just below their white shoulders, their clear eyes of forget-me-not blue, and skins of extraordinary fineness and purity-they were singularly attractive. Each was clad in an extremely scanty bodice of silken blue, girdled above a kirtle that came barely to their very pretty knees."Food and drink," ordered Rador. They dropped back through the curtains. "Do you like them?" he asked us. "Some chickens!" said Larry. "They delight the heart," he translated for Rador. The green dwarf's next remark made me gasp. "They are yours," he said.
Before I could question him further upon this extraordinary statement the pair re-entered, bearing a great platter on which were small loaves, strange fruits, and three immense flagons of rock crystal--two filled with a slightly sparkling yellow liquid and the third with a purplish drink. I became acutely sensible that it had been hours since I had either eaten or drunk. The yellow flagons were set before Larry and me, the purple at Rador's hand.The girls, at his signal, again withdrew. I raised my glass to my lips and took a deep draft. The taste was unfamiliar but delightful.
Almost at once my fatigue disappeared. I realized a clarity of mind, an interesting exhilaration and sense of irresponsibility, of freedom from care, that were oddly enjoyable. Larry became immediately his old gay self.The green dwarf regarded us whimsically, sipping from his great flagon of rock crystal. "Much do I desire to know of that world you came from," he said at last--"through the rocks," he added, slyly. "And much do we desire to know of this world of yours, O Rador," I answered. Should I ask him of the Dweller; seek from him a clue to Throckmartin? Again, clearly as a spoken command, came the warning to forbear, to wait. And once more I obeyed. "Let us learn, then, from each other." The dwarf was laughing. "And first--are all above like you--drawn out"-he made an expressive gesture--"and are there many of you?"
"There are--" I hesitated, and at last spoke the Polynesian that means tens upon tens multiplied indefinitely--"there are as many as the drops of water in the lake we saw from the ledge where you found us," I continued; "many as the leaves on the trees without. And they are all like us-varyingly."He considered skeptically, I could see, my remark upon our numbers.
"In Muria," he said at last, "the men are like me or like Lugur. Our women are as you see them--like Yolara or those two who served you." He hesitated. "And there is a third; but only one."Larry leaned forward eagerly. "Brown-haired with glints of ruddy bronze, golden-eyed, and lovely as a dream, with long, slender, beautiful hands?" he cried. "Where saw you HER?" interrupted the dwarf, starting to his feet.
"Saw her?" Larry recovered himself. "Nay, Rador, perhaps, I only dreamed that there was such a woman."
"See to it, then, that you tell not your dream to Yolara," said the dwarf grimly. "For her I meant and her you have pictured is Lakla, the hand-maiden to the Silent Ones, and neither Yolara nor Lugur, nay, nor the Shining One, love her overmuch, stranger."
"Nay," he answered, "ask me no more of her." He was silent for a space. "And what do you who are as leaves or drops of water do in that world of yours?" he said, plainly bent on turning the subject."Keep off the golden-eyed girl, Larry," I interjected. "Wait till we find out why she's tabu." "Love and battle, strive and accomplish and die; or fail and die," answered Larry--to Rador--giving me a quick nod of acquiescence to my warning in English. "In that at least your world and mine differ little," said the dwarf. "How great is this world of yours, Rador?" I spoke. He considered me gravely.
"How great indeed I do not know," he said frankly at last. "The land where we dwell with the Shining One stretches along the white waters for--" He used a phrase of which I could make nothing. "Beyond this city of the Shining One and on the hither shores of the white waters dwell the mayia ladala--the common ones." He took a deep draft from his flagon. "There are, first, the fair-haired ones, the children of the ancient rulers," he continued. "There are, second, we the soldiers; and last, the mayia ladala, who dig and till and weave and toil and give our rulers and us their daughters, and dance with the Shining One!" he added."Who rules?" I asked.
"The fair-haired, under the Council of Nine, who are under Yolara, the Priestess and Lugur, the Voice," he answered, "who are in turn beneath the Shining One!" There was a ring of bitter satire in the last."And those three who were judged?"--this from Larry.
"They were of the mayia ladala," he replied, "like those two I gave you. But they grow restless. They do not like to dance with the Shining One--the blasphemers!" He raised his voice in a sudden great shout of mocking laughter.
In his words I caught a fleeting picture of the race--an ancient, luxurious, close-bred oligarchy clustered about some mysterious deity; a soldier class that supported them; and underneath all the toiling, oppressed hordes.
He arose abruptly. We followed him through the hangings, passed through a corridor and into another smaller chamber, roofless, the sides walled with screens of dark grey. Two cushioned couches were there and a curtained door leading into an open, outer enclosure in which a fountain played within a wide pool.
"Your bath," said Rador. He dropped the curtain and came back into the room. He touched a carved flower at one side. There was a tiny sighing from overhead and instantly across the top spread a veil of blackness, impenetrable to light but certainly not to air, for through it pulsed little breaths of the garden fragrances. The room filled with a cool twilight, refreshing, sleep-inducing. The green dwarf pointed to the couches."Sleep!" he said. "Sleep and fear nothing. My men are on guard outside." He came closer to us, the old mocking gaiety sparkling in his eyes.
"But I spoke too quickly," he whispered. "Whether it is because the Afyo Maie fears their tongues--or--" he laughed at Larry. "The maids are NOT yours!" Still laughing he vanished through the curtains of the room of the fountain before I could ask him the meaning of his curious gift, its withdrawal, and his most enigmatic closing remarks.
"Back in the great old days of Ireland," thus Larry breaking into my thoughts raptly, the brogue thick, "there was Cairill mac Cairill--Cairill Swiftspear. An' Cairill wronged Keevan of Emhain Abhlach, of the blood of Angus of the great people when he was sleeping in the likeness of a pale reed. Then Keevan put this penance on Cairill--that for a year Cairill should wear his body in Emhain Abhlach, which is the Land of Faery and for that year Keevan should wear the body of Cairill. And it was done.
"In that year Cairill met Emar of the Birds that are one white, one red, and one black--and they loved, and from that love sprang Ailill their son. And when Ailill was born he took a reed flute and first he played slumber on Cairill, and then he played old age so that Cairill grew white and withered; then Ailill played again and Cairill became a shadow-then a shadow of a shadow--then a breath; and the breath went out upon the wind!" He shivered. "Like the old gnome," he whispered, "that they called Songar of the Lower Waters!"
He shook his head as though he cast a dream from him. Then, all alert- "But that was in Iceland ages agone. And there's nothing like that here, Doc!" He laughed. "It doesn't scare me one little bit, old boy. The pretty devil lady's got the wrong slant. When you've had a pal standing beside you one moment-full of life, and joy, and power, and potentialities, telling what he's going to do to make the world hum when he gets through the slaughter, just running over with zip and pep of life, Doc--and the next instant, right in the middle of a laugh--a piece of damned shell takes off half his head and with it joy and power and all the rest of it"--his face twitched--"well, old man, in the face of THAT mystery a disappearing act such as the devil lady treated us to doesn't make much of a dent. Not on me. But by the brogans of Brian Boru--if we could have had some of that stuff to turn on during the war--oh, boy!"
He was silent, evidently contemplating the idea with vast pleasure. And as for me, at that moment my last doubt of Larry O'Keefe vanished, I saw that he did believe, really believed, in his banshees, his leprechauns and all the old dreams of the Gael--but only within the limits of Ireland.
In one drawer of his mind was packed all his superstition, his mysticism, and what of weakness it might carry. But face him with any peril or problem and the drawer closed instantaneously leaving a mind that was utterly fearless, incredulous, and ingenious; swept clean of all cobwebs by as fine a skeptic broom as ever brushed a brain.
"Some stuff!" Deepest admiration was in his voice. "If we'd only had it when the war was on--imagine half a dozen of us scooting over the enemy batteries and the gunners underneath all at once beginning to shake themselves to pieces! Wow!" His tone was rapturous.
"It's easy enough to explain, Larry," I said. "The effect, that is--for what the green ray is made of I don't know, of course. But what it does, clearly, is stimulate atomic vibration to such a pitch that the cohesion between the particles of matter is broken and the body flies to bits--just as a flywheel does when its speed gets so great that the particles of which IT is made can't hold together.""Shake themselves to pieces is right, then!" he exclaimed.
"Absolutely right," I nodded. "Everything in Nature vibrates. And all matter--whether man or beast or stone or metal or vegetable--is made up of vibrating molecules, which are made up of vibrating atoms which are made up of truly infinitely small particles of electricity called electrons, and electrons, the base of all matter, are themselves perhaps only a vibration of the mysterious ether.
"If a magnifying glass of sufficient size and strength could be placed over us we could see ourselves as sieves--our space lattice, as it is called. And all that is necessary to break down the lattice, to shake us into nothingness, is some agent that will set our atoms vibrating at such a rate that at last they escape the unseen cords and fly off.
"They had a gun on the West Front--a seventy-five," said O'Keefe, "that broke the eardrums of everybody who fired it, no matter what protection they used. It looked like all the other seventy-fives--but there was something about its sound that did it. They had to recast it."
"It's practically the same thing," I replied. "By some freak its vibratory qualities had that effect. The deep whistle of the sunken Lusitania would, for instance, make the Singer Building shake to its foundations; while the Olympic did not affect the Singer at all but made the Woolworth shiver all through. In each case they stimulated the atomic vibration of the particular building--"I paused, aware all at once of an intense drowsiness. O'Keefe, yawning, reached down to unfasten his puttees.
"Lord, I'm sleepy!" he exclaimed. "Can't understand it-what you say--most--interesting-Lord!" he yawned again; straightened. "What made Reddy take such a shine to the Russian?" he asked."Thanaroa," I answered, fighting to keep my eyes open. "What?"
"When Lugur spoke that name I saw Marakinoff signal him. Thanaroa is, I suspect, the original form of the name of Tangaroa, the greatest god of the Polynesians. There's a secret cult to him in the islands. Marakinoff may belong to it--he knows it anyway. Lugur recognized the signal and despite his surprise answered it.""So he gave him the high sign, eh?" mused Larry. "How could they both know it?"
"The cult is a very ancient one. Undoubtedly it had its origin in the dim beginnings before these people migrated here," I replied. "It's a link--one--of the few links between up there and the lost past--""Trouble then," mumbled Larry. "Hell brewing! I smell it --Say, Doc, is this sleepiness natural? Wonder where my-gas mask--is--" he added, half incoherently.
But I myself was struggling desperately against the drugged slumber pressing down upon me.
"Lakla!" I heard O'Keefe murmur. "Lakla of the golden eyes--no Eilidh--the Fair!" He made an immense effort, half raised himself, grinned faintly.
"Thought this was paradise when I first saw it, Doc," he sighed. "But I know now, if it is, No-Man's Land was the greatest place on earth for a honeymoon. They--they've got us, Doc--" He sank back. "Good luck, old boy, wherever you're going." His hand waved feebly. "Glad--knew--you. Hope--see--you--'gain--"
His voice trailed into silence. Fighting, fighting with every fibre of brain and nerve against the sleep, I felt myself being steadily overcome. Yet before oblivion rushed down upon me I seemed to see upon the grey-screened wall nearest the Irishman an oval of rosy light begin to glow; watched, as my falling lids inexorably fell, a flame-tipped shadow waver on it; thicken; condense--and there looking down upon Larry, her eyes great golden stars in which intensest curiosity and shy tenderness struggled, sweet mouth half smiling, was the girl of the Moon Pool's Chamber, the girl whom the green dwarf had named--Lakla: the vision Larry had invoked before that sleep which I could no longer deny had claimed him- Closer she came--closer---the eyes were over us.Then oblivion indeed!
Chapter 16. Yolara Of Muria Vs. The O'keefe
I AWAKENED with all the familiar, homely sensation of a shade having been pulled up in a darkened room. I thrilled with a wonderful sense of deep rest and restored resiliency. The ebon shadow had vanished from above and down into the room was pouring the silvery light. From the fountain pool came a mighty splashing and shouts of laughter. I jumped and drew the curtain. O'Keefe and Rador were swimming a wild race; the dwarf like an otter, out-distancing and playing around the Irishman at will.
Had that overpowering sleep--and now I confess that my struggle against it had been largely inspired by fear that it was the abnormal slumber which Throckmartin had described as having heralded the approach of the Dweller before it had carried away Thora and Stanton--had that sleep been after all nothing but natural reaction of tired nerves and brains?
And that last vision of the golden-eyed girl bending over Larry? Had that also been a delusion of an overstressed mind? Well, it might have been, I could not tell. At any rate, I decided, I would speak about it to O'Keefe once we were alone again--and then giving myself up to the urge of buoyant well-being I shouted like a boy, stripped and joined the two in the pool. The water was warm and I felt the unwonted tingling of life in every vein increase; something from it seemed to pulse through the skin, carrying a clean vigorous vitality that toned every fibre. Tiring at last, we swam to the edge and drew ourselves out. The green dwarf quickly clothed himself and Larry rather carefully donned his uniform.
"The Afyo Maie has summoned us, Doc," he said. "We're to--well--I suppose you'd call it breakfast with her. After that, Rador tells me, we're to have a session with the Council of Nine. I suppose Yolara is as curious as any lady of--the upper world, as you might put it-and just naturally can't wait," he added.He gave himself a last shake, patted the automatic hidden under his left arm, whistled cheerfully,
"After you, my dear Alphonse," he said to Rador, with a low bow. The dwarf laughed, bent in an absurd imitation of Larry's mocking courtesy and started ahead of us to the house of the priestess. When he had gone a little way on the orchid-walled path I whispered to O'Keefe:"Larry, when you were falling off to sleep--did you think you saw anything?"
"See anything!" he grinned. "Doc, sleep hit me like a Hun shell. I thought they were pulling the gas on us. I--I had some intention of bidding you tender farewells," he continued, half sheepishly. "I think I did start 'em, didn't I?"I nodded. "But wait a minute--" he hesitated. "I had a queer sort of dream--" 'What was it?" I asked eagerly,
"Well," he answered slowly, "I suppose it was because I'd been thinking of--Golden Eyes. Anyway, I thought she came through the wall and leaned over me--yes, and put one of those long white hands of hers on my head--I couldn't raise my lids--but in some queer way I could see her. Then it got real dreamish. Why do you ask?"Rador turned back toward us, "Later," I answered, "Not now. When we're alone."
But through me went a little glow of reassurance. Whatever the maze through which we were moving; whatever of menacing evil lurking there--the Golden Girl was clearly watching over us; watching with whatever unknown powers she could muster.
We passed the pillared entrance; went through a long bowered corridor and stopped before a door that seemed to be sliced from a monolith of pale jade--high, narrow, set in a wall of opal.
Rador stamped twice and the same supernally sweet, silver bell tones of--yesterday, I must call it, although in that place of eternal day the term is meaningless--bade us enter. The door slipped aside. The chamber was small, the opal walls screening it on three sides, the black opacity covering it, the fourth side opening out into a delicious little walled garden --a mass of the fragrant, luminous blooms and delicately colored fruit. Facing it was a small table of reddish wood and from the omnipresent cushions heaped around it arose to greet us--Yolara.Larry drew in his breath with an involuntary gasp of admiration and bowed low. My own admiration was as frank --and the priestess was well pleased with our homage.
She was swathed in the filmy, half-revelant webs, now of palest blue. The corn-silk hair was caught within a widemeshed golden net in which sparkled tiny brilliants, like blended sapphires and diamonds. Her own azure eyes sparkled as brightly as they, and I noted again in their clear depths the half-eager approval as they rested upon O'Keefe's lithe, well-knit figure and his keen, clean-cut face. The higharched, slender feet rested upon soft sandals whose gauzy withes laced the exquisitely formed leg to just below the dimpled knee."Some giddy wonder!" exclaimed Larry, looking at me and placing a hand over his heart. "Put her on a New York roof and she'd empty Broadway. Take the cue from me, Doc."
He turned to Yolara, whose face was somewhat puzzled. "I said, O lady whose shining hair is a web for hearts, that in our world your beauty would dazzle the sight of men as would a little woman sun!" he said, in the florid imagery to which the tongue lends itself so well.
A flush stole up through the translucent skin. The blue eyes softened and she waved us toward the cushions. Blackhaired maids stole in, placing before us the fruits, the little loaves and a steaming drink somewhat the colour and odor of chocolate. I was conscious of outrageous hunger."What are you named, strangers?" she asked. "This man is named Goodwin," said O'Keefe. "As for me, call me Larry."
"Nothing like getting acquainted quick," he said to me-but kept his eyes upon Yolara as though he were voicing another honeyed phrase. And so she took it, for: "You must teach me your tongue," she murmured."Then shall I have two words where now I have one to tell you of your loveliness," he answered. "And also that'll take time," he spoke to me. "Essential occupation out of which we can't be drafted to make these fun-loving folk any Roman holiday. Get me!" "Larree," mused Yolara. "I like the sound. It is sweet--" and indeed it was as she spoke it. "And what is your land named, Larree?" she continued. "And Goodwin's?" She caught the sound perfectly. "My land, O lady of loveliness, is two--Ireland and America; his but one--America." She repeated the two names--slowly, over and over. We seized the opportunity to attack the food; halting half guiltily as she spoke again. "Oh, but you are hungry!" she cried. "Eat then." She leaned her chin upon her hands and regarded us, whole fountains of questions brimming up in her eyes. "How is it, Larree, that you have two countries and Goodwin but one?" she asked, at last unable to keep silent longer. "I was born in Ireland; he in America. But I have dwelt long in his land and my heart loves each," he said. She nodded, understandingly. "Are all the men of Ireland like you, Larree? As all the men here are like Lugur or Rador?
I like to look at you," she went on, with naive frankness. "I am tired of men like Lugur and Rador. But they are strong," she added, swiftly. "Lugur can hold up ten in his two arms and raise six with but one hand."We could not understand her numerals and she raised white fingers to illustrate.
"That is little, O lady, to the men of Ireland," replied O'Keefe. "Lo, I have seen one of my race hold up ten times ten of our--what call you that swift thing in which Rador brought us here?""Corial," said she. "Hold up ten times twenty of our corials with but two fingers--and these corials of ours--" "Coria," said she. "And these coria of ours are each greater in weight than ten of yours. Yes, and I have seen another with but one blow of his hand raise hell! "And so I have," he murmured to me. "And both at Fortysecond and Fifth Avenue, N. Y. -U. S. A." Yolara considered all this with manifest doubt. "Hell?" she inquired at last. "I know not the word." "Well," answered O'Keefe. "Say Muria then. In many ways they are, I gather, O heart's delight, one and the same." Now the doubt in the blue eyes was strong indeed. She shook her head. "None of our men can do THAT!" she answered, at length. "Nor do I think you could, Larree." "Oh, no," said Larry easily. "I never tried to be that strong. I fly," he added, casually. The priestess rose to her feet, gazing at him with startled eyes. "Fly!" she repeated incredulously. "Like a Zitia? A bird?" Larry nodded--and then seeing the dawning command in her eyes, went on hastily.
"Not with my own wings, Yolara. In a--a corial that moves through--what's the word for air, Doc--well, through this--" He made a wide gesture up toward the nebulous haze above us. He took a pencil and on a white cloth made a hasty sketch of an airplane. "In a
-a corial like this--" She regarded the sketch gravely, thrust a hand down into her girdle and brought forth a keen-bladed poniard; cut Larry's markings out and placed the fragment carefully aside.
"In all Ireland and America there is none like you, Yolara," he answered. "And take that any way you please," he muttered in English. She took it, it was evident, as it most pleased her."Do you have goddesses?" she asked. "Every woman in Ireland and America, is a goddess"; thus Larry. "Now that I do not believe." There was both anger and mockery in her eyes. "I know women, Larree--and if that were so there would be no peace for men." "There isn't!" replied he. The anger died out and she laughed, sweetly, understandingly. "And which goddess do you worship, Larree?" "You!" said Larry O'Keefe boldly. "Larry! Larry!" I whispered. "Be careful. It's high explosive." But the priestess was laughing--little trills of sweet bell notes; and pleasure was in each note.
"You are indeed bold, Larree," she said, "to offer me your worship. Yet am I pleased by your boldness. Still--Lugur is strong; and you are not of those who--what did you sayhave tried. And your wings are not here--Larree!"Again her laughter rang out. The Irishman flushed; it was touche for Yolara! "Fear not for me with Lugur," he said, grimly. "Rather fear for him!" The laughter died; she looked at him searchingly; a little enigmatic smile about her mouth--so sweet and so cruel. "Well--we shall see," she murmured. "You say you battle in your world. With what?" "Oh, with this and with that," answered Larry, airily. "We manage--" "Have you the Keth--I mean that with which I sent Songar into the nothingness?" she asked swiftly. "See what she's driving at?" O'Keefe spoke to me, swiftly. "Well I do! But here's where the O'Keefe lands.
"I said," he turned to her, "O voice of silver fire, that your spirit is high even as your beauty--and searches out men's souls as does your loveliness their hearts. And now listen, Yolara, for what I speak is truth"--into his eyes came the far-away gaze; into his voice the Irish softness--"Lo, in my land of Ireland, this many of your life's length agone--see" --he raised his ten fingers, clenched and unclenched them times twenty--"the mighty men of my race, the Taitha-daDainn, could send men out into the nothingness even as do you with the Keth. And this they did by their harpings, and by words spoken--words of power, O Yolara, that have their power still--and by pipings and by slaying sounds.
"There was Cravetheen who played swift flames from his harp, flying flames that ate those they were sent against. And there was Dalua, of Hy Brasil, whose pipes played away from man and beast and all living things their shadows-and at last played them to shadows too, so that wherever Dalua went his shadows that had been men and beast followed like a storm of little rustling leaves; yea, and Bel the Harper, who could make women's hearts run like wax and men's hearts flame to ashes and whose harpings could shatter strong cliffs and bow great trees to the sod--"His eyes were bright, dream-filled; she shrank a little from him, faint pallor under the perfect skin.
"I say to you, Yolara, that these things were and are-in Ireland." His voice rang strong. "And I have seen men as many as those that are in your great chamber this many times over"--he clenched his hands once more, perhaps a dozen times--"blasted into nothingness before your Keth could even have touched them. Yea--and rocks as mighty as those through which we came lifted up and shattered before the lids could fall over your blue eyes. And this is truth, Yolara--all truth! Stay--have you that little cone of the Keth with which you destroyed Songar?"She nodded, gazing at him, fascinated, fear and puzzlement contending. "Then use it." He took a vase of crystal from the table, placed it on the threshold that led into the garden. "Use it on this--and I will show you." "I will use it upon one of the ladala--" she began eagerly.
The exaltation dropped from him; there was a touch of horror in the eyes he turned to her; her own dropped before it.
"It shall be as you say," she said hurriedly. She drew the shining cone from her breast; levelled it at the vase. The green ray leaped forth, spread over the crystal, but before its action could even be begun, a flash of light shot from O'Keefe's hand, his automatic spat and the trembling vase flew into fragments. As quickly as he had drawn it, he thrust the pistol back into place and stood there empty handed, looking at her sternly. From the anteroom came shouting, a rush of feet.
I followed her pointing finger. Each broken bit of the crystal was vibrating, shaking its particles out into space. Broken it the bullet of Larry's had--but not released it from the grip of the disintegrating force. The priestess's face was triumphant."But what matters it, O shining urn of beauty--what matters it to the vase that is broken what happens to its fragments?" asked Larry, gravely--and pointedly. The triumph died from her face and for a space she was silent; brooding. "Next," whispered O'Keefe to me. "Lots of surprises in the little box; keep your eye on the opening and see what comes out."
We had not long to wait. There was a sparkle of anger about Yolara, something too of injured pride. She clapped her hands; whispered to the maid who answered her summons, and then sat back regarding us, maliciously."You have answered me as to your strength--but you have not proved it; but the Keth you have answered. Now answer this!" she said.
She pointed out into the garden. I saw a flowering branch bend and snap as though a hand had broken it--but no hand was there! Saw then another and another bend and break, a little tree sway and fall--and closer and closer to us came the trail of snapping boughs while down into the garden poured the silvery light revealing--nothing! Now a great ewer beside a pillar rose swiftly in air and hurled itself crashing at my feet. Cushions close to us swirled about as though in the vortex of a whirlwind.
And unseen hands held my arms in a mighty clutch fast to my sides, another gripped my throat and I felt a needlesharp poniard point pierce my shirt, touch the skin just over my heart!
"Larry!" I cried, despairingly. I twisted my head; saw that he too was caught in this grip of the invisible. But his face was calm, even amused.
Now from Yolara burst chime upon chime of mocking laughter. She gave a command-the hands loosened, the poniard withdrew from my heart; suddenly as I had been caught I was free--and unpleasantly weak and shaky."Have you THAT in Ireland, Larree!" cried the priestess-and once more trembled with laughter.
"A good play, Yolara." His voice was as calm as his face. "But they did that in Ireland even before Dalua piped away his first man's shadow. And in Goodwin's land they make ships--coria that go on water--so you can pass by them and see only sea and sky; and those water coria are each of them many times greater than this whole palace of yours."But the priestess laughed on. "It did get me a little," whispered Larry. "That wasn't quite up to my mark. But God! If we could find that trick out and take it back with us!" "Not so, Larree!" Yolara gasped, through her laughter. "Not so! Goodwin's cry betrayed you!"
Her good humour had entirely returned; she was like a mischievous child pleased over some successful trick; and like a child she cried--"I'll show you!"--signalled again; whispered to the maid who, quickly returning, laid before her a long metal case. Yolara took from her girdle something that looked like a small pencil, pressed it and shot a thin stream of light for all the world like an electric flash, upon its hasp. The lid flew open. Out of it she drew three flat, oval crystals, faint rose in hue. She handed one to O'Keefe and one to me.
"Look!" she commanded, placing the third before her own eyes. I peered through the stone and instantly there leaped into sight, out of thin air--six grinning dwarfs! Each was covered from top of head to soles of feet in a web so tenuous that through it their bodies were plain. The gauzy stuff seemed to vibrate--its strands to run together like quicksilver. I snatched the crystal from my eyes and--the chamber was empty! Put it back--and there were the grinning six!Yolara gave another sign and they disappeared, even from the crystals.
"It is what they wear, Larree," explained Yolara, graciously. "It is something that came to us from--the Ancient Ones. But we have so few"--she sighed.
"Such treasures must be two-edged swords, Yolara," commented O'Keefe. "For how know you that one within them creeps not to you with hand eager to strike?"
"And now no more. You two are to appear before the Council at a certain time--but fear nothing. You, Goodwin, go with Rador about our city and increase your wisdom. But you, Larree, await me here in my garden--" she smiled at him, provocatively-maliciously, too. "For shall not one who has resisted a world of goddesses be given all chance to worship when at last he finds his own?"She laughed--whole-heartedly and was gone. And at that moment I liked Yolara better than ever I had before and-alas--better than ever I was to in the future. I noted Rador standing outside the open jade door and started to go, but O'Keefe caught me by the arm. "Wait a minute," he urged. "About Golden Eyes--you were going to tell me something-it's been on my mind all through that little sparring match." I told him of the vision that had passed through my closing lids. He listened gravely and then laughed.
"Hell of a lot of privacy in this place!" he grinned. "Ladies who can walk through walls and others with regular invisible cloaks to let 'em flit wherever they please. Oh, well, don't let it get on your nerves, Doc. Remember--everything's natural! That robe stuff is just camouflage of course. But Lord, if we could only get a piece of it!"
"The material simply admits all light-vibrations, or perhaps curves them, just as the opacities cut them off," I answered. "A man under the X-ray is partly invisible; this makes him wholly so. He doesn't register, as the people of the motion-picture profession say."
"Camouflage," repeated Larry. "And as for the Shining One--Say!" he snorted. "I'd like to set the O'Keefe banshee up against it. I'll bet that old resourceful Irish body would give it the first three bites and a strangle hold and wallop it before it knew it had 'em. Oh! Wow! Boy Howdy!"I heard him still chuckling gleefully over this vision as I passed along the opal wall with the green dwarf.
A shell was awaiting us. I paused before entering it to examine the polished surface of runway and great road. It was obsidian--volcanic glass of pale emerald, unflawed, translucent, with no sign of block or juncture. I examined the shell.
"What makes it go?" I asked Rador. At a word from him the driver touched a concealed spring and an aperture appeared beneath the control-lever, of which I have spoken in a preceding chapter. Within was a small cube of black crystal, through whose sides I saw, dimly, a rapidly revolving, glowing ball, not more than two inches in diameter. Beneath the cube was a curiously shaped, slender cylinder winding down into the lower body of the Nautilus whorl.
"Watch!" said Rador. He motioned me into the vehicle and took a place beside me. The driver touched the lever; a stream of coruscations flew from the ball down into the cylinder. The shell started smoothly, and as the tiny torrent of shining particles increased it gathered speed."The corial does not touch the road," explained Rador. "It is lifted so far"--he held his forefinger and thumb less than a sixteenth of an inch apart--"above it."
And perhaps here is the best place to explain the activation of the shells or coria. The force utilized was atomic energy. Passing from the whirling ball the ions darted through the cylinder to two bands of a peculiar metal affixed to the base of the vehicles somewhat like skids of a sled. Impinging upon these they produced a partial negation of gravity, lifting the shell slightly, and at the same time creating a powerful repulsive force or thrust that could be directed backward, forward, or sidewise at the will of the driver. The creation of this energy and the mechanism of its utilization were, briefly, as follows:
[Dr. Goodwin's lucid and exceedingly comprehensive description of this extraordinary mechanism has been deleted by the Executive Council of the International Association of Science as too dangerously suggestive to scientists of the Central European Powers with which we were so recently at war. It is allowable, however, to state that his observations are in the possession of experts in this country, who are, unfortunately, hampered in their research not only by the scarcity of the radioactive elements that we know, but also by the lack of the element or elements unknown to us that entered into the formation of the fiery ball within the cube of black crystal. Nevertheless, as the principle is so clear, it is believed that these difficulties will ultimately be overcome."--J. B. K., President, I. A. of S.]
The wide, glistening road was gay with the coria. They darted in and out of the gardens; within them the fair-haired, extraordinarily beautiful women on their cushions were like princesses of Elfland, caught in gorgeous fairy webs, resting within the hearts of flowers. In some shells were flaxenhaired dwarfish men of Lugur's type; sometimes black-polled brother officers of Rador; often raven-tressed girls, plainly hand-maidens of the women; and now and then beauties of the lower folk went by with one of the blond dwarfs.
We swept around the turn that made of the jewel-like roadway an enormous horseshoe and, speedily, upon our right the cliffs through which we had come in our journey from the Moon Pool began to march forward beneath their mantles of moss. They formed a gigantic abutment, a titanic salient. It had been from the very front of this salient's invading angle that we had emerged; on each side of it the precipices, faintly glowing, drew back and vanished into distance.
The slender, graceful bridges under which we skimmed ended at openings in the upflung, far walls of verdure. Each had its little garrison of soldiers. Through some of the openings a rivulet of the green obsidian river passed. These were roadways to the farther country, to the land of the ladala, Rador told me; adding that none of the lesser folk could cross into the pavilioned city unless summoned or with pass.
We turned the bend of the road and flew down that farther emerald ribbon we had seen from the great oval. Before us rose the shining cliffs and the lake. A half-mile, perhaps, from these the last of the bridges flung itself. It was more massive and about it hovered a spirit of ancientness lacking in the other spans; also its garrison was larger and at its base the tangent way was guarded by two massive structures, somewhat like blockhouses, between which it ran. Something about it aroused in me an intense curiosity."Where does that road lead, Rador?" I asked. "To the one place above all of which I may not tell you, Goodwin," he answered. And again I wondered.
We skimmed slowly out upon the great pier. Far to the left was the prismatic, rainbow curtain between the Cyclopean pillars. On the white waters graceful shells--lacustrian replicas of the Elf chariots--swam, but none was near that distant web of wonder."Rador--what is that?" I asked. "It is the Veil of the Shining One!" he answered slowly. Was the Shining One that which we named the Dweller? "What is the Shining One?" I cried, eagerly. Again he was silent. Nor did he speak until we had turned on our homeward way.
And lively as my interest, my scientific curiosity, were-I was conscious suddenly of acute depression. Beautiful, wondrously beautiful this place was--and yet in its wonder dwelt a keen edge of menace, of unease--of inexplicable, inhuman woe; as though in a secret garden of God a soul should sense upon it the gaze of some lurking spirit of evil which some way, somehow, had crept into the sanctuary and only bided its time to spring.
Chapter 17. The Leprechaun
THE SHELL carried us straight back to the house of Yolara. Larry was awaiting me. We stood again before the tenebrous wall where first we had faced the priestess and the Voice. And as we stood, again the portal appeared with all its disconcerting, magical abruptness.
But now the scene was changed. Around the jet table were grouped a number of figures-Lugur, Yolara beside him; seven others-all of them fair-haired and all men save one who sat at the left of the priestess--an old, old woman, how old I could not tell, her face bearing traces of beauty that must once have been as great as Yolara's own, but now ravaged, in some way awesome; through its ruins the fearful, malicious gaiety shining out like a spirit of joy held within a corpse!
Began then our examination, for such it was. And as it progressed I was more and more struck by the change in the O'Keefe. All flippancy was gone, rarely did his sense of humour reveal itself in any of his answers. He was like a cautious swordsman, fencing, guarding, studying his opponent; or rather, like a chess-player who keeps sensing some far-reaching purpose in the game: alert, contained, watchful. Always he stressed the power of our surface races, their multitudes, their solidarity.
Their questions were myriad. What were our occupations? Our system of government? How great were the waters? The land? Intensely interested were they in the World War, querying minutely into its causes, its effects. In our weapons their interest was avid. And they were exceedingly minute in their examination of us as to the ruins which had excited our curiosity; their position and surroundings--and if others than ourselves might be expected to find and pass through their entrance!
At this I shot a glance at Lugur. He did not seem unduly interested. I wondered if the Russian had told him as yet of the girl of the rosy wall of the Moon Pool Chamber and the real reasons for our search. Then I answered as briefly as possible--omitting all reference to these things. The red dwarf watched me with unmistakable amusement--and I knew Marakinoff had told him. But clearly Lugur had kept his information even from Yolara; and as clearly she had spoken to none of that episode when O'Keefe's automatic had shattered the Keth-smitten vase. Again I felt that sense of deep bewilderment--of helpless search for clue to all the tangle.For two hours we were questioned and then the priestess called Rador and let us go. Larry was sombre as we returned. He walked about the room uneasily.
"Hell's brewing here all right," he said at last, stopping before me. "I can't make out just the particular brand-that's all that bothers me. We're going to have a stiff fight, that's sure. What I want to do quick is to find the Golden Girl, Doc. Haven't seen her on the wall lately, have you?" he queried, hopefully fantastic.
"Laugh if you want to," he went on. "But she's our best bet. It's going to be a race between her and the O'Keefe banshee--but I put my money on her. I had a queer experience while I was in that garden, after you'd left." His voice grew solemn. "Did you ever see a leprechaun, Doc?" I shook my head again, as solemnly. "He's a little man in green," said Larry. "Oh, about as high as your knee. I saw one once --in Carntogher Woods. And as I sat there, half asleep, in Yolara's garden, the living spit of him stepped out from one of those bushes, twirling a little shillalah.
"'I know where my heart is now,' I told him. 'It rests on a girl with golden eyes and the hair and swan-white breast of Eilidh the Fair--but me feet don't seem to get me to her,' I said."The brogue thickened. "An' the little man in green nodded his head an' whirled his shillalah.
"'It's what I came to tell ye,' says he. 'Don't ye fall for the Bhean-Nimher, the serpent woman wit' the blue eyes; she's a daughter of Ivor, lad--an' don't ye do nothin' to make the brown-haired coleen ashamed o' ye, Larry O'Keefe. I knew yer great, great grandfather an' his before him, aroon,' says he, 'an' wan o' the O'Keefe failin's is to think their hearts big enough to hold all the wimmen o' the world. A heart's built to hold only wan permanently, Larry,' he says, 'an' I'm warnin' ye a nice girl don't like to move into a place all cluttered up wid another's washin' an' mendin' an' cookin' an' other things pertainin' to general wife work. Not that I think the blue-eyed wan is keen for mendin' an' cookin'!' says he."'You don't have to be comin' all this way to tell me that,' I answer.
"'Well, I'm just a tellin' you,' he says. 'Ye've got some rough knocks comin', Larry. In fact, ye're in for a devil of a time. But, remember that ye're the O'Keefe,' says he. 'An' while the bhoys are all wid ye, avick, ye've got to be on the job yourself.'"'I hope,' I tell him, 'that the O'Keefe banshee can find her way here in time--that is, if it's necessary, which I hope it won't be.'
"'Don't ye worry about that,' says he. 'Not that she's keen on leavin' the ould sod, Larry. The good ould soul's in quite a state o' mind about ye, aroon. I don't mind tellin' ye, lad, that she's mobilizing all the clan an' if she HAS to come for ye, avick, they'll be wid her an' they'll sweep this joint clean before ye go. What they'll do to it'll make the Big Wind look like a summer breeze on Lough Lene! An' that's about all, Larry. We thought a voice from the Green Isle would cheer ye. Don't fergit that ye're the O'Keefe an' I say it again-all the bhoys are wid ye. But we want t' kape bein' proud o' ye, lad!'"An' I looked again and there was only a bush waving." There wasn't a smile in my heart--or if there was it was a very tender one. "I'm going to bed," he said abruptly. "Keep an eye on the wall, Doc!"
Between the seven sleeps that followed, Larry and I saw but little of each other. Yolara sought him more and more. Thrice we were called before the Council; once we were at a great feast, whose splendours and surprises I can never forget. Largely I was in the company of Rador. Together we two passed the green barriers into the dwelling--place of the ladala.
They seemed provided with everything needful for life. But everywhere was an oppressiveness, a gathering together of hate, that was spiritual rather than material--as tangible as the latter and far, far more menacing!"They do not like to dance with the Shining One," was Rador's constant and only reply to my efforts to find the cause.
Once I had concrete evidence of the mood. Glancing behind me, I saw a white, vengeful face peer from behind a tree-trunk, a hand lift, a shining dart speed from it straight toward Rador's back. Instinctively I thrust him aside. He turned upon me angrily. I pointed to where the little missile lay, still quivering, on the ground. He gripped my hand."That, some day I will repay!" he said. I looked again at the thing. At its end was a tiny cone covered with a glistening, gelatinous substance. Rador pulled from a tree beside us a fruit somewhat like an apple. "Look!" he said. He dropped it upon the dart--and at once, before my eyes, in less than ten seconds, the fruit had rotted away! "That's what would have happened to Rador but for you, friend!" he said. Come now between this and the prelude to the latter half of the drama whose history this narrative is--only scattering and necessarily fragmentary observations.
First--the nature of the ebon opacities, blocking out the spaces between the pavilionpillars or covering their tops like roofs, These were magnetic fields, light absorbers, negativing the vibrations of radiance; literally screens of electric force which formed as impervious a barrier to light as would have screens of steel.
They instantaneously made night appear in a place where no night was. But they interposed no obstacle to air or to sound. They were extremely simple in their inception-no more miraculous than is glass, which, inversely, admits the vibrations of light, but shuts out those coarser ones we call air--and, partly, those others which produce upon our auditory nerves the effects we call sound.
[For the same reason that Dr. Goodwin's exposition of the mechanism of the atomic engines was deleted, his description of the light-destroying screens has been deleted by the Executive Council.--J. B. F., President, I. A. of S.]
There were two favoured classes of the ladala--the soldiers and the dream-makers. The dream-makers were the most astonishing social phenomena, I think, of all. Denied by their circumscribed environment the wider experiences of us of the outer world, the Murians had perfected an amazing system of escape through the imagination.
They were, too, intensely musical. Their favourite instruments were double flutes; immensely complex pipe-organs; harps, great and small. They had another remarkable instrument made up of a double octave of small drums which gave forth percussions remarkably disturbing to the emotional centres.It was this love of music that gave rise to one of the few truly humorous incidents of our caverned life. Larry came to me--it was just after our fourth sleep, I remember. "Come on to a concert," he said.
We skimmed off to one of the bridge garrisons. Rador called the two-score guards to attention; and then, to my utter stupefaction, the whole company, O'Keefe leading them, roared out the anthem, "God Save the King." They sang--in a closer approach to the English than might have been expected scores of miles below England's level. "Send him victorious! Happy and glorious!" they bellowed.He quivered with suppressed mirth at my paralysis of surprise. "Taught 'em that for Marakinoff's benefit!" he gasped. "Wait till that Red hears it. He'll blow up. "Just wait until you hear Yolara lisp a pretty little thing I taught her," said Larry as we set back for what we now called home. There was an impish twinkle in his eyes. And I did hear. For it was not many minutes later that the priestess condescended to command me to come to her with O'Keefe.
"Show Goodwin how much you have learned of our speech, O lady of the lips of honeyed flame!" murmured Larry.
She hesitated; smiled at him, and then from that perfect mouth, out of the exquisite throat, in the voice that was like the chiming of little silver bells, she trilled a melody familiar to me indeed:
"She thinks it's a love-song," said Larry when we had left. "It's only part of a repertoire I'm teaching her. Honestly, Doc, it's the only way I can keep my mind clear when I'm with her," he went on earnestly. "She's a devil-ess from hell --but a wonder. Whenever I find myself going I get her to sing that, or Take Back Your Gold! or some other ancient lay, and I'm back again--pronto--with the right perspective! POP goes all the mystery! 'Hell!' I say, 'she's only a woman!'"