When the World Shook by H. Rider Haggard - HTML preview
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So we "trotted" at no mean pace. As we passed it, Bastin stooped down and picked up the head of the image of Oro, much as Atalanta in Academy pictures is represented as doing to the apples, and bore it away in triumph.
"I know it is scorched," he ejaculated at intervals, "but they might trim it up and stick it on to a new body as the original false god. Now they can't, for there's nothing left."
As a matter of fact, we were never in any real danger, for our pursuit was very half-hearted indeed. To begin with, now that their first rage was over, the Orofenans who were fond of us had no particular wish to do us to death, while the ardour of their sorcerers, who wished this very much, had been greatly cooled by the mysterious annihilation of their idol and the violent deaths of two of their companions, which they thought might be reduplicated in their own persons. So it came about that the chase, if noisy, was neither close nor eager.
We reached the edge of the lake where was the boat-house of which I have spoken already, travelling at little more than a walk. Here we made Bastin unfasten the better of the two canoes that by good luck was almost filled with offerings, which doubtless, according to custom, must be made upon the day of this feast to Oro, while we watched against surprise at the boat-house door. When he was ready we slipped in and took our seats, Tommy jumping in after us, and pushed the canoe, now very heavily laden, out into the lake.
Here, at a distance of about forty paces, which we judged to be beyond wooden spear-throw, we rested upon our paddles to see what would happen. All the crowd of islanders had rushed to the lake edge where they stood staring at us stupidly. Bastin, thinking the occasion opportune, lifted the hideous head of the idol which he had carefully washed, and began to preach on the downfall of "the god of the Grove."
This action of his appeared to awake memories or forebodings in the minds of his congregation. Perhaps some ancient prophecy was concerned--I do not know. At any rate, one of the priests shouted something, whereon everybody began to talk at once. Then, stooping down, they threw water from the lake over themselves and rubbed its sand and mud into their hair, all the while making genuflexions toward the mountain in the middle, after which they turned and departed.
"Don't you think we had better go back?" asked Bastin. "Evidently my words have touched them and their minds are melting beneath the light of Truth."
"Oh! by all means," replied Bickley with sarcasm; "for then their spears will touch us, and our bodies will soon be melting above the fires of that pit."
"Perhaps you are right," said Bastin; "at least, I admit that you have made matters very difficult by your unjustifiable homicide of that priest who I do not think meant to injure you seriously, and really was not at all a bad fellow, though opinionated in some ways. Also, I do not suppose that anybody is expected, as it were, to run his head into the martyr's crown. When it settles there of itself it is another matter."
"Like a butterfly!" exclaimed the enraged Bickley. "Yes, if you like to put it that way, though the simile seems a very poor one; like a sunbeam would be better."Here Bickley gave way with his paddle so vigorously that the canoe was as nearly as possible upset into the lake.
In due course we reached the flat Rock of Offerings, which proved to be quite as wide as a double croquet lawn and much longer.
"What are those?" I asked, pointing to certain knobs on the edge of the rock at a spot where a curved projecting point made a little harbour.Bickley examined them, and answered:
"I should say that they are the remains of stone mooring-posts worn down by many thousands of years of weather. Yes, look, there is the cut of the cables upon the base of that one, and very big cables they must have been."
We stared at one another--that is, Bickley and I did, for Bastin was still engaged in contemplating the blackened head of the god which he had overthrown.Chapter IX The Island in the Lake
We made the canoe fast and landed on the great rock, to perceive that it was really a peninsula. That is to say, it was joined to the main land of the lake island by a broad roadway quite fifty yards across, which appeared to end in the mouth of the cave. On this causeway we noted a very remarkable thing, namely, two grooves separated by an exact distance of nine feet which ran into the mouth of the cave and vanished there."Explain!" said Bickley.
"Paths," I said, "worn by countless feet walking on them for thousands of years."
"You should cultivate the art of observation, Arbuthnot. What do you say, Bastin?"
"I don't say anything, except that I can't see anybody to make paths here. Indeed, the place seems quite unpopulated, and all the Orofenans told me that they never landed on it because if they did they would die. It is a part of their superstitious nonsense. If you have any idea in your head you had better tell us quickly before we breakfast. I am very hungry."
"You always are," remarked Bickley; "even when most people's appetites might have been affected. Well, I think that this great plateau was once a landing-place for flying machines, and that there is the air-shed or garage."Bastin stared at him.
"Don't you think we had better breakfast?" he said. "There are two roast pigs in that canoe, and lots of other food, enough to last us a week, I should say. Of course, I understand that the blood you have shed has thrown you off your balance. I believe it has that effect, except on the most hardened. Flying machines were only invented a few years ago by the brothers Wright in America."
"Bastin," said Bickley, "I begin to regret that I did not leave you to take part in another breakfast yonder--I mean as the principal dish.""It was Providence, not you, who prevented it, Bickley, doubtless because I am unworthy of such a glorious end."
"Then it is lucky that Providence is a good shot with a pistol. Stop talking nonsense and listen. If those were paths worn by feet they would run to the edge of the rock. They do not. They begin there in that gentle depression and slope upwards somewhat steeply. The air machines, which were evidently large, lit in the depression, possibly as a bird does, and then ran on wheels or sledge skids along the grooves to the air-shed in the mountain. Come to the cave and you will see."
"Not till we have breakfast," said Bastin. "I will get out a pig. As a matter of fact, I had no supper last night, as I was taking a class of native boys and making some arrangements of my own."As for me, I only whistled. It all seemed very feasible. And yet how could such things be?
We unloaded the canoe and ate. Bastin's appetite was splendid. Indeed, I had to ask him to remember that when this supply was done I did not know where we should find any more.
"Take no thought for the morrow," he replied. "I have no doubt it will come from somewhere," and he helped himself to another chop.
Never had I admired him so much. Not a couple of hours before he was about to be cruelly murdered and eaten. But this did not seem to affect him in the least. Bastin was the only man I have ever known with a really perfect faith. It is a quality worth having and one that makes for happiness. What a great thing not to care whether you are breakfasted on, or breakfast!
"I see that there is lots of driftwood about here," he remarked, "but unfortunately we have no tea, so in this climate it is of little use, unless indeed we can catch some fish and cook them.""Stop talking about eating and help us to haul up the canoe," said Bickley.
Between the three of us we dragged and carried the canoe a long way from the lake, fearing lest the natives should come and bear it off with our provisions. Then, having given Tommy his breakfast off the scraps, we walked to the cave. I glanced at my companions. Bickley's face was alight with scientific eagerness. Here are not dreams or speculations, but facts to be learned, it seemed to say, and I will learn them. The past is going to show me some of its secrets, to tell me how men of long ago lived and died and how far they had advanced to that point on the road of civilisation at which I stand in my little hour of existence.
That of Bastin was mildly interested, no more. Obviously, with half his mind he was thinking of something else, probably of his converts on the main island and of the school class fixed for this hour which circumstances prevented him from attending. Indeed, like Lot's wife he was casting glances behind him towards the wicked place from which he had been forced to flee. Neither the past nor the future had much real interest for Bastin; any more than they had for Bickley, though for different reasons. The former was done with; the latter he was quite content to leave in other hands. If he had any clear idea thereof, probably that undiscovered land appeared to him as a big, pleasant place where are no unbelievers or erroneous doctrines, and all sinners will be sternly repressed, in which, clad in a white surplice with all proper ecclesiastical
trappings, he would argue eternally with the Early Fathers and in due course utterly annihilate Bickley, that is in a moral sense. Personally and as a man he was extremely attached to Bickley as a necessary and wrong-headed nuisance to which he had become accustomed.
And I! What did I feel? I do not know; I cannot describe. An extraordinary attraction, a semi-spiritual exaltation, I think. That cave mouth might have been a magnet drawing my soul. With my body I should have been afraid, as I daresay I was, for our circumstances were sufficiently desperate. Here we were, castaways upon an island, probably uncharted, one of thousands in the recesses of a vast ocean, from which we had little chance of escape. More, having offended the religious instincts of the primeval inhabitants of that island, we had been forced to flee to a rocky mountain in the centre of a lake, where, after the food we had brought with us by accident was consumed, we should no doubt be forced to choose between death by starvation, or, if we attempted to retreat, at the hands of justly infuriated
savages. Yet these facts did not oppress me, for I was being drawn, drawn to I knew not what, and if it were to doom--well, no matter.
Therefore, none of us cared: Bastin because his faith was equal to any emergency and there was always that white-robed heaven waiting for him beyond which his imagination did not go (I often wondered whether he pictured Mrs. Bastin as also waiting; if so, he never said anything about her); Bickley because as a child of the Present and a servant of knowledge he feared no future, believing it to be for him non-existent, and was careless as to when his strenuous hour of life should end; and I because I felt that yonder lay my true future; yes, and my true past, even though to discover them I must pass through that portal which we know as Death.
We reached the mouth of the cave. It was a vast place; perhaps the arch of it was a hundred feet high, and I could see that once all this arch had been adorned with sculptures. Protected as these were by the overhanging rock, for the sculptured mouth of the cave was cut deep into the mountain face, they were still so worn that it was impossible to discern their details. Time had eaten them away like an acid. But what length of time? I could not guess, but it must have been stupendous to have worked thus upon that hard and sheltered rock.
This came home to me with added force when, from subsequent examination, we learned that the entire mouth of this cave had been sealed up for unnumbered ages. It will be remembered that Marama told me the mountain in the lake had risen much during the frightful cyclone in which we were wrecked and with it the cave mouth which previously had been invisible. From the markings on the mountain side it was obvious that something of the sort had happened very recently, at any rate on this eastern face. That is, either the flat rock had sunk or the volcano had been thrown upwards.
Once in the far past the cave had been as it was when we found it. Then it had gone down in such a way that the table-rock entirely sealed the entrance. Now this entrance was once more open, and although of course there was a break in them, the grooves of which I have spoken ran on into the cave at only a slightly different level from that at which they lay upon the flat rock. And yet, although they had been thus sheltered by a great stone curtain in front of them, still these sculptures were worn away by the tooth of Time. Of course, however, this may have happened to them before they were buried in some ancient cataclysm, to be thus resurrected at the hour of our arrival upon the island.
Without pausing to make any closer examination of these crumbled carvings, we entered the yawning mouth of that great place, following and indeed walking in the deep grooves that I have mentioned. Presently it seemed to open out as a courtyard might at the end of a passage; yes, to open on to some vast place whereof in that gloom we could not see the roof or the limits. All we knew was that it must be enormous--the echoes of our voices and footsteps told us as much, for these seemed to come back to us from high, high above and from far, far away. Bickley and I said nothing; we were too overcome. But Bastin remarked:
"Did you ever go to Olympia? I did once to see a kind of play where the people said nothing, only ran about dressed up. They told me it was religious, the sort of thing a clergyman should study. I didn't think it religious at all. It was all about a nun who had a baby.""Well, what of it?" snapped Bickley.
"Nothing particular, except that nuns don't have babies, or if they do the fact should not be advertised. But I wasn't thinking of that. I was thinking that this place is like an underground Olympia."
"Oh, be quiet!" I said, for though Bastin's description was not bad, his monotonous, drawling voice jarred on me in that solemnity."Be careful where you walk," whispered Bickley, for even he seemed awed, "there may be pits in this floor." "I wish we had a light," I said, halting.
"If candles are of any use," broke in Bastin, "as it happens I have a packet in my pocket. I took them with me this morning for a certain purpose.""Not unconnected with the paraffin and the burning of the idol, I suppose?" said Bickley. "Hand them over." "Yes; if I had been allowed a little more time I intended--"
"Never mind what you intended; we know what you did and that's enough," said Bickley as he snatched the packet from Bastin's hand and proceeded to undo it, adding, "By heaven! I have no matches, nor have you, Arbuthnot!"
"I have a dozen boxes of wax vestas in my other pocket," said Bastin. "You see, they burn so well when you want to get up a fire on a damp idol. As you may have noticed, the dew is very heavy here."
In due course these too were produced. I took possession of them as they were too valuable to be left in the charge of Bastin, and, extracting a box from the packet, lit two of the candles which were of the short thick variety, like those used in carriage-lamps.
Presently they burned up, making two faint stars of light which, however, were not strong enough to show us either the roof or the sides of that vast place. By their aid we pursued our path, still following the grooves till suddenly these came to an end. Now all around us was a flat floor of rock which, as we perceived clearly when we pushed aside the dust that had gathered thickly on it in the course of ages, doubtless from the gradual disintegration of the stony walls, had once been polished till it resembled black marble. Indeed, certain cracks in the floor appeared to have been filled in with some dark-coloured cement. I stood looking at them while Bickley wandered off to the right and a little forward, and presently called to me. I walked to him, Bastin sticking close to me as I had the other candle, as did the little dog, Tommy, who did not like these new surroundings and would not leave my heels."Look," said Bickley, holding up his candle, "and tell me-what's that?"
Before me, faintly shown, was some curious structure of gleaming rods made of yellowish metal, which rods appeared to be connected by wires. The structure might have been forty feet high and perhaps a hundred long. Its bottom part was buried in dust."What is that?" asked Bickley again. I made no answer, for I was thinking. Bastin, however, replied:
"It's difficult to be sure in this light, but I should think that it may be the remains of a cage in which some people who lived here kept monkeys, or perhaps it was an aviary. Look at those little ladders for the monkeys to climb by, or possibly for the birds to sit on.""Are you sure it wasn't tame angels?" asked Bickley. "What a ridiculous remark! How can you keep an angel in a cage? I--" "Aeroplane!" I almost whispered to Bickley. "You've got it!" he answered. "The framework of an aeroplane and a jolly large one, too. Only why hasn't it oxidised?" "Some indestructible metal," I suggested. "Gold, for instance, does not oxidise."
He nodded and said: "We shall have to dig it out. The dust is feet thick about it; we can do nothing without spades. Come on."
We went round to the end of the structure, whatever it might be, and presently came to another. Again we went on and came to another, all of them being berthed exactly in line."What did I tell you?" said Bickley in a voice of triumph. "A whole garage full, a regular fleet of aeroplanes!"
"That must be nonsense," said Bastin, "for I am quite sure that these Orofenans cannot make such things. Indeed they have no metal, and even cut the throats of pigs with wooden knives."
Now I began to walk forward, bearing to the left so as to regain our former line. We could do nothing with these metal skeletons, and I felt that there must be more to find beyond. Presently I saw something looming ahead of me and quickened my pace, only to recoil. For there, not thirty feet away and perhaps three hundred yards from the mouth of the cave, suddenly appeared what looked like a gigantic man. Tommy saw it also and barked as dogs do when they are frightened, and the sound of his yaps echoed endlessly from every quarter, which scared him to silence. Recovering myself I went forward, for now I guessed the truth. It was not a man but a statue.
The thing stood upon a huge base which lessened by successive steps, eight of them, I think, to its summit. The foot of this base may have been a square of fifty feet or rather more; the real support or pedestal of the statue, however, was only a square of about six feet. The figure itself was little above life-size, or at any rate above our life-size, say seven feet in height. It was very peculiar in sundry ways.
To begin with, nothing of the body was visible, for it was swathed like a corpse. From these wrappings projected one arm, the right, in the hand of which was the likeness of a lighted torch. The head was not veiled. It was that of a man, long-nosed, thin-lipped, stern-visaged; the countenance pervaded by an awful and unutterable calm, as deep as that of Buddha only less benign. On the brow was a wreathed head-dress, not unlike an Eastern turban, from which sprang two little wings resembling in some degree those on the famous Greek head of Hypnos, lord of Sleep. Between the folds of the wrappings on the back sprang two other wings, enormous wings bent like those of a bird about to take flight. Indeed the whole attitude of the figure suggested that it was springing from earth to air. It was executed in black basalt or some stone of the sort, and very highly finished. For instance, on the bare feet and the arm which held the torch could be felt every muscle and even some of the veins. In the same way the details of the skull were perfectly perceptible to the touch, although at first sight not visible on the marble surface. This was ascertained by climbing on the pedestal and feeling the face with our hands.
Here I may say that its modelling as well as that of the feet and the arm filled Bickley, who, of course, was a highly trained anatomist, with absolute amazement. He said that he would never have thought it possible that such accuracy could have been reached by an artist working in so hard a material.
When the others had arrived we studied this relic as closely as our two candles would allow, and in turn expressed our opinions of its significance. Bastin thought that if those things down there were really the remains of aeroplanes, which he did not believe, the statue had something to do with flying, as was shown by the fact that it had wings on its head and shoulders. Also, he added, after examining the face, the head was uncommonly like that of the idol that he had blown up. It had the same long nose and severe shut mouth. If he was right, this was probably another effigy of Oro which we should do well to destroy at once before the islanders came to worship it.Bickley ground his teeth as he listened to him. "Destroy that!" he gasped. "Destroy! Oh! you, you--early Christian."
Here I may state that Bastin was quite right, as we proved subsequently when we compared the head of the fetish, which, as it will be remembered, he had brought away with him, with that of the statue. Allowing for an enormous debasement of art, they were essentially identical in the facial characteristics. This would suggest the descent of a tradition through countless generations. Or of course it may have been accidental. I am sure I do not know, but I think it possible that for unknown centuries other old statues may have existed in Orofena from which the idol was copied. Or some daring and impious spirit may have found his way to the cave in past ages and fashioned the local god upon this ancient model.
Bickley was struck at once, as I had been, with the resemblance of the figure to that of the Egyptian Osiris. Of course there were differences. For instance, instead of the crook and the scourge, this divinity held a torch. Again, in place of the crown of Egypt it wore a winged head-dress, though it is true this was not very far removed from the winged disc of that country. The wings that sprang from its shoulders, however, suggested Babylonia rather than Egypt, or the Assyrian bulls that are similarly adorned. All of these symbolical ideas might have been taken from that figure. But what was it? What was it?
In a flash the answer came to me. A representation of the spirit of Death! Neither more nor less. There was the shroud; there the cold, inscrutable countenance suggesting mysteries that it hid. But the torch and the wings? Well, the torch was that which lighted souls to the other world, and on the wings they flew thither. Whoever fashioned that statue hoped for another life, or so I was convinced.
I explained my ideas. Bastin thought them fanciful and preferred his notion of a flying man, since by constitution he was unable to discover anything spiritual in any religion except his own. Bickley agreed that it was probably an allegorical representation of death but sniffed at my interpretation of the wings and the torch, since by constitution he could not believe that the folly of a belief in immortality could have developed so early in the world, that is, among a highly civilised people such as must have produced this statue.
What we could none of us understand was why this ominous image with its dead, cold face should have been placed in an aerodrome, nor in fact did we ever discover. Possibly it was there long before the cave was put to this use. At first the place may have been a temple and have so remained until circumstances forced the worshippers to change their habits, or even their Faith.
We examined this wondrous work and the pedestal on which it stood as closely as we were able by the dim light of our candles. I was anxious to go further and see what lay beyond it; indeed we did walk a few paces, twenty perhaps, onward into the recesses of the cave.
Then Bickley discovered something that looked like the mouth of a well down which he nearly tumbled, and Bastin began to complain that he was hot and very thirsty; also to point out that he wished for no more caves and idols at present.
"Look here, Arbuthnot," said Bickley, "these candles are burning low and we don't want to use up more if we can prevent it, for we may need what we have got very badly later on. Now, according to my pocket compass the mouth of this cave points due east; probably at the beginning it was orientated to the rising sun for purposes of astronomical observation or of worship at certain periods of the year. From the position of the sun when we landed on the rock this morning I imagine that just now it rises almost exactly opposite to the mouth of the cave. If this is so, to-morrow at dawn, for a time at least, the light should penetrate as far as the statue, and perhaps further. What I suggest is that we should wait till then to explore."
I agreed with him, especially as I was feeling tired, being exhausted by wonder, and wanted time to think. So we turned back. As we did so I missed Tommy and inquired anxiously where he was, being afraid lest he might have tumbled down the well-like hole.
"He's all right," said Bastin. "I saw him sniffing at the base of that statue. I expect there is a rat in there, or perhaps a snake."
Sure enough when we reached it there was Tommy with his black nose pressed against the lowest of the tiers that formed the base of the statue, and sniffing loudly. Also he was scratching in the dust as a dog does when he has winded a rabbit in a hole. So engrossed was he in this occupation that it was with difficulty that I coaxed him to leave the place.
I did not think much of the incident at that time, but afterwards it came back to me, and I determined to investigate those stones at the first opportunity.
Passing the wrecks of the machines, we emerged on to the causeway without accident. After we had rested and washed we set to work to draw our canoe with its precious burden of food right into the mouth of the cave, where we hid it as well as we could.
This done we went for a walk round the base of the peak. This proved to be a great deal larger than we had imagined, over two miles in circumference indeed. All about it was a belt of fertile land, as I suppose deposited there by the waters of the great lake and resulting from the decay of vegetation. Much of this belt was covered with ancient forest ending in mud flats that appeared to have been thrown up recently, perhaps at the time of the tidal wave which bore us to Orofena. On the higher part of the belt were many of the extraordinary crater-like holes that I have mentioned as being prevalent on the main island; indeed the place had all the appearance of having been subjected to a terrific and continuous bombardment.
When we had completed its circuit we set to work to climb the peak in order to explore the terraces of which I have spoken and the ruins which I had seen through my field-glasses. It was quite true; they were terraces cut with infinite labour out of the solid rock, and on them had once stood a city, now pounded into dust and fragments. We struggled over the broken blocks of stone to what we had taken for a temple, which stood near the lip of the crater, for without doubt this mound was an extinct volcano, or rather its crest. All we could make out when we arrived was that here had once stood some great building, for its courts could still be traced; also there lay about fragments of steps and pillars.
Apparently the latter had once been carved, but the passage of innumerable ages had obliterated the work and we could not turn these great blocks over to discover if any remained beneath. It was as though the god Thor had broken up the edifice with his hammer, or Jove had shattered it with his thunderbolts; nothing else would account for that utter wreck, except, as Bickley remarked significantly, the scientific use of high explosives.
Following the line of what seemed to have been a road, we came to the edge of the volcano and found, as we expected, the usual depression out of which fire and lava had once been cast, as from Hecla or Vesuvius. It was now a lake more than a quarter of a mile across. Indeed it had been thus in the ancient days when the buildings stood upon the terraces, for we saw the remains of steps leading down to the water. Perhaps it had served as the sacred lake of the temple.
We gazed with wonderment and then, wearied out, scrambled back through the ruins, which, by the way, were of a different stone from the lava of the mountain, to the mouth of the great cave.Chapter X
The Dwellers in the Tomb By now it was drawing towards sunset, so we made such preparations as we could for the night. One of these was to collect dry driftwood, of which an abundance lay upon the shore, to serve us for firing, though unfortunately we had nothing that we could cook for our meal.
While we were thus engaged we saw a canoe approaching the table-rock and perceived that in it were the chief Marama and a priest. After hovering about for a while they paddled the canoe near enough to allow of conversation which, taking no notice of their presence, we left it to them to begin.
"O, Friend-from-the-Sea," called Marama, addressing myself, "we come to pray you and the Great Healer to return to us to be our guests as before. The people are covered with darkness because of the loss of your wisdom, and the sick cry aloud for the Healer; indeed two of those whom he has cut with knives are dying.""And what of the Bellower?" I asked, indicating Bastin.
"We should like to see him back also, Friend-from-the-Sea, that we may sacrifice and eat him, who destroyed our god with fire and caused the Healer to kill his priest.""That is most unjust," exclaimed Bastin. "I deeply regret the blood that was shed on the occasion, unnecessarily as I think." "Then go and atone for it with your own," said Bickley, "and everybody will be pleased." Waving to them to be silent, I said:
"Are you mad, Marama, that you should ask us to return to sojourn among people who tried to kill us, merely because the Bellower caused fire to burn an image of wood and its head to fly from its shoulders, just to show you that it had no power to hold itself together, although you call it a god? Not so, we wash our hands of you; we leave you to go your own way while we go ours, till perchance in a day to come, after many misfortunes have overtaken you, you creep about our feet and with prayers and offerings beg us to return."
I paused to observe the effect of my words. It was excellent, for both Marama and the priest wrung their hands and groaned. Then I went on:
"Meanwhile we have something to tell you. We have entered the cave where you said no man might set a foot, and have seen him who sits within, the true god." (Here Bastin tried to interrupt, but was suppressed by Bickley.)
"It is that he, the real Oro, rejoices that the false Oro, whose face is copied from his face, has been destroyed. It is that he commands you day by day to bring food in plenty and lay it upon the Rock of Offerings, not forgetting a supply of fresh fish from the sea, and with it all those things that are stored in the house wherein we, the strangers from the sea, deigned to dwell awhile until we left you because in your wickedness you wished to murder us.""And if we refuse--what then?" asked the priest, speaking for the first time.
"Then Oro will send death and destruction upon you. Then your food shall fail and you shall perish of sickness and want, and the Oromatuas, the spirits of the great dead, shall haunt you in your sleep, and Oro shall eat up your souls."At these horrible threats both of them uttered a kind of wail, after which, Marama asked: "And if we consent, what then, Friend-from-the-Sea?"
"Then, perchance," I answered, "in some day to come we may return to you, that I may give you of my wisdom and the Great Healer may cure your sick and the Bellower may lead you through his gate, and in his kindness make you to see with his eyes."
This last clause of my ultimatum did not seem to appeal to the priest, who argued a while with Marama, though what he said we could not hear. In the end he appeared to give way. At any rate Marama called out that all should be done as we wished, and that meanwhile they prayed us to intercede with Oro in the cave, and to keep back the ghosts from haunting them, and to protect them from misfortune. I replied that we would do our best, but could guarantee nothing since their offence was very great.
Then, to show that the conversation was at an end, we walked away with dignity, pushing Bastin in front of us, lest he should spoil the effect by some of his ill-timed and often over-true remarks.
"That's capital," said Bickley, when we were out of hearing. "The enemy has capitulated. We can stop here as long as we like, provisioned from the mainland, and if for any reason we wish to leave, be sure of our line of retreat."
"I don't know what you call capital," exclaimed Bastin. "It seems to me that all the lies which Arbuthnot has just told are sufficient to bring a judgment upon us. Indeed, I think that I will go back with Marama and explain the truth."
"I never before knew anybody who was so anxious to be cooked and eaten," remarked Bickley. "Moreover, you are too late, for the canoe is a hundred yards away by now, and you shan't have ours. Remember the Pauline maxims, old fellow, which you are so fond of quoting, and be all things to all men, and another that is more modern, that when you are at Rome, you must do as the Romans do; also a third, that necessity has no law, and for the matter of that, a fourth, that all is fair in love and war."
"I am sure, Bickley, that Paul never meant his words to bear the debased sense which you attribute to them--" began Bastin, but at this point I hustled him off to light a fire--a process at which I pointed out he had shown himself an expert.
We slept that night under the overhanging rock just to one side of the cave, not in the mouth, because of the draught which drew in and out of the great place. In that soft and balmy clime this was no hardship, although we lacked blankets. And yet, tired though I was, I could not rest as I should have done. Bastin snored away contentedly, quite unaffected by his escape which to him was merely an incident in the day's work; and so, too, slumbered Bickley, except that he did not snore. But the amazement and the mystery of all that we had discovered and of all that might be left for us to discover, held me back from sleep.
What did it mean? What could it mean? My nerves were taut as harp strings and seemed to vibrate to the touch of invisible fingers, although I could not interpret the music that they made. Once or twice also I thought I heard actual music with my physical ears, and that of a strange quality. Soft and low and dreamful, it appeared to well from the recesses of the vast cave, a wailing song in an unknown tongue from the lips of women, or of a woman, multiplied mysteriously by echoes. This, however, must have been pure fancy, since there was no singer there.
Presently I dozed off, to be awakened by the sudden sound of a great fish leaping in the lake. I sat up and stared, fearing lest it might be the splash of a paddle, for I could not put from my mind the possibility of attack. All I saw, however, was the low line of the distant shore, and above it the bright and setting stars that heralded the coming of the sun. Then I woke the others, and we washed and ate, since once the sun rose time would be precious.
At length it appeared, splendid in a cloudless sky, and, as I had hoped, directly opposite to the mouth of the cave. Taking our candles and some stout pieces of driftwood which, with our knives, we had shaped on the previous evening to serve us as levers and rough shovels, we entered the cave. Bickley and I were filled with excitement and hope of what we knew not, but Bastin showed little enthusiasm for our quest. His heart was with his half-converted savages beyond the lake, and of them, quite rightly I have no doubt, he thought more than he did of all the archaeological treasures in the whole earth. Still, he came, bearing the blackened head of Oro with him which, with unconscious humour, he had used as a pillow through the night because, as he said, "it was after all softer than stone." Also, I believe that in his heart he hoped that he might find an opportunity of destroying the bigger and earlier edition of Oro in the cave, before it was discovered by the natives who might wish to make it an object of worship. Tommy came also, with greater alacrity than I expected, since dogs do not as a rule like dark places. When we reached the statue I learned the reason; he remembered the smell he had detected at its base on the previous day, which Bastin supposed to proceed from a rat, and was anxious to continue his investigations.
We went straight to the statue, although Bickley passed the half-buried machines with evident regret. As we had hoped, the strong light of the rising sun fell upon it in a vivid ray, revealing all its wondrous workmanship and the majesty--for no other word describes it--of the somewhat terrifying countenance that appeared above the wrappings of the shroud. Indeed, I was convinced that originally this monument had been placed here in order that on certain days of the year the sun might fall upon it thus, when probably worshippers assembled to adore their hallowed symbol. After all, this was common in ancient days: witness the instance of the awful Three who sit in the deepest recesses of the temple of Abu Simbel, on the Nile.
We gazed and gazed our fill, at least Bickley and I did, for Bastin was occupied in making a careful comparison between the head of his wooden Oro and that of the statue.
"There is no doubt that they are very much alike," he said. "Why, whatever is that dog doing? I think it is going mad," and he pointed to Tommy who was digging furiously at the base of the lowest step, as at home I have seen him do at roots that sheltered a rabbit.
Tommy's energy was so remarkable that at length it seriously attracted our attention. Evidently he meant that it should do so, for occasionally he sprang back to me barking, then returned and sniffed and scratched. Bickley knelt down and smelt at the stone.
"It is an odd thing, Humphrey," he said, "but there is a strange odour here, a very pleasant odour like that of sandal-wood or attar of roses.""I never heard of a rat that smelt like sandal-wood or attar of roses," said Bastin. "Look out that it isn't a snake."
I knelt down beside Bickley, and in clearing away the deep dust from what seemed to be the bottom of the step, which was perhaps four feet in height, by accident thrust my amateur spade somewhat strongly against its base where it rested upon the rocky floor.
Next moment a wonder came to pass. The whole massive rock began to turn outwards as though upon a pivot! I saw it coming and grabbed Bickley by the collar, dragging him back so that we just rolled clear before the great block, which must have weighed several tons, fell down and crushed us. Tommy saw it too, and fled, though a little late, for the edge of the block caught the tip of his tail and caused him to emit a most piercing howl. But we did not think of Tommy and his woes; we did not think of our own escape or of anything else because of the marvel that appeared to us. Seated there upon the ground, after our backward tumble, we could see into the space which lay behind the fallen step, for there the light of the sun penetrated.
The first idea it gave me was that of the jewelled shrine of some mediaeval saint which, by good fortune, had escaped the plunderers; there are still such existing in the world. It shone and glittered, apparently with gold and diamonds, although, as a matter of fact, there were no diamonds, nor was it gold which gleamed, but some ancient metal, or rather amalgam, which is now lost to the world, the same that was used in the tubes of the air-machines. I think that it contained gold, but I do not know. At any rate, it was equally lasting and even more beautiful, though lighter in colour.
For the rest this adorned recess which resembled that of a large funeral vault, occupying the whole space beneath the base of the statue that was supported on its arch, was empty save for two flashing objects that lay side by side but with nearly the whole width of the vault between them.I pointed at them to Bickley with my finger, for really I could not speak. "Coffins, by Jove!" he whispered. "Glass or crystal coffins and people in them. Come on!"
A few seconds later we were crawling into that vault while Bastin, still nursing the head of Oro as though it were a baby, stood confused outside muttering something about desecrating hallowed graves.
Just as we reached the interior, owing to the heightening of the sun, the light passed away, leaving us in a kind of twilight. Bickley produced carriage candles from his pocket and fumbled for matches. While he was doing so I noticed two things--firstly, that the place really did smell like a scent-shop, and, secondly, that the coffins seemed to glow with a kind of phosphorescent light of their own, not very strong, but sufficient to reveal their outlines in the gloom. Then the candles burnt up and we saw.
Within the coffin that stood on our left hand as we entered, for this crystal was as transparent as plate glass, lay a most wonderful old man, clad in a gleaming, embroidered robe. His long hair, which was parted in the middle, as we could see beneath the edge of the pearl-sewn and broidered cap he wore, also his beard were snowy white. The man was tall, at least six feet four inches in height, and rather spare. His hands were long and thin, very delicately made, as were his sandalled feet.
But it was his face that fixed our gaze, for it was marvelous, like the face of a god, and, as we noticed at once, with some resemblance to that of the statue above. Thus the brow was broad and massive, the nose straight and long, the mouth stern and clear-cut, while the cheekbones were rather high, and the eyebrows arched. Such are the characteristics of many handsome old men of good blood, and as the mummies of Seti and others show us, such they have been for thousands of years. Only this man differed from all others because of the fearful dignity stamped upon his features. Looking at him I began to think at once of the prophet Elijah as he must have appeared rising to heaven, enhanced by the more earthly glory of Solomon, for although the appearance of these patriarchs is unknown, of them one conceives ideas. Only it seemed probable that Elijah may have looked more benign. Here there was no benignity, only terrible force and infinite wisdom.
Contemplating him I shivered a little and felt thankful that he was dead. For to tell the truth I was afraid of that awesome countenance which, I should add, was of the whiteness of paper, although the cheeks still showed tinges of colour, so perfect was the preservation of the corpse.I was still gazing at it when Bickley said in a voice of amazement: "I say, look here, in the other coffin."
I turned, looked, and nearly collapsed on the floor of the vault, since beauty can sometimes strike us like a blow. Oh! there before me lay all loveliness, such loveliness that there burst from my lips an involuntary cry:"Alas! that she should be dead!"
A young woman, I supposed, at least she looked young, perhaps five or six and twenty years of age, or so I judged. There she lay, her tall and delicate shape half hidden in masses of rich-hued hair in colour of a ruddy blackness. I know not how else to describe it, since never have I seen any of the same tint. Moreover, it shone with a life of its own as though it had been dusted with gold. From between the masses of this hair appeared a face which I can only call divine. There was every beauty that woman can boast, from the curving eyelashes of extraordinary length to the sweet and human mouth. To these charms also were added a wondrous smile and an air of kind dignity, very different from the fierce pride stamped upon the countenance of the old man who was her companion in death.
She was clothed in some close-fitting robe of white broidered with gold; pearls were about her neck, lying far down upon the perfect bosom, a girdle of gold and shining gems encircled her slender waist, and on her little feet were sandals fastened with red stones like rubies. In truth, she was a splendid creature, and yet, I know not how, her beauty suggested more of the spirit than of the flesh. Indeed, in a way, it was unearthly. My senses were smitten, it pulled at my heart-strings, and yet its unutterable strangeness seemed to awake memories within me, though of what I could not tell. A wild fancy came to me that I must have known this heavenly creature in some past life.
By now Bastin had joined us, and, attracted by my exclamation and by the attitude of Bickley, who was staring down at the coffin with a fixed look upon his face, not unlike that of a pointer when he scents game, he began to contemplate the wonder within it in his slow way."Well, I never!" he said. "Do you think the Glittering Lady in there is human?" "The Glittering Lady is dead, but I suppose that she was human in her life," I answered in an awed whisper.
"Of course she is dead, otherwise she would not be in that glass coffin. I think I should like to read the Burial Service over her, which I daresay was never done when she was put in there."
"How do you know she is dead?" asked Bickley in a sharp voice and speaking for the first time. "I have seen hundreds of corpses, and mummies too, but never any that looked like these."
I stared at him. It was strange to hear Bickley, the scoffer at miracles, suggesting that this greatest of all miracles might be possible.
"They must have been here a long time," I said, "for although human, they are not, I think, of any people known to the world to-day; their dress, everything, shows it, though perhaps thousands of years ago--" and I stopped.
"Quite so," answered Bickley; "I agree. That is why I suggest that they may have belonged to a race who knew what we do not, namely, how to suspend animation for great periods of time."
I said no more, nor did Bastin, who was now engaged in studying the old man, and for once, wonderstruck and overcome. Bickley, however, took one of the candles and began to make a close examination of the coffins. So did Tommy, who sniffed along the join of that of the Glittering Lady until his nose reached a certain spot, where it remained, while his black tail began to wag in a delighted fashion. Bickley pushed him away and investigated."As I thought," he said--"air-holes. See!"
I looked, and there, bored through the crystal of the coffin in a line with the face of its occupant, were a number of little holes that either by accident or design outlined the shape of a human mouth."They are not airtight," murmured Bickley; "and if air can enter, how can dead flesh remain like that for ages?" Then he continued his search upon the other side.
"The lid of this coffin works on hinges," he said. "Here they are, fashioned of the crystal itself. A living person within could have pulled it down before the senses departed.""No," I answered; "for look, here is a crystal bolt at the end and it is shot from without." This puzzled him; then as though struck by an idea, he began to examine the other coffin.
"I've got it!" he exclaimed presently. "The old god in here" (somehow we all thought of this old man as not quite normal) "shut down the Glittering Lady's coffin and bolted it. His own is not bolted, although the bolt exists in the same place. He just got in and pulled down the lid. Oh! what nonsense I am talking-for how can such things be? Let us get out and think."
So we crept from the sepulchre in which the perfumed air had begun to oppress us and sat ourselves down upon the floor of the cave, where for a while we remained silent.
"I am very thirsty," said Bastin presently. "Those smells seem to have dried me up. I am going to get some tea--I mean water, as unfortunately there is no tea," and he set off towards the mouth of the cave.
We followed him, I don't quite know why, except that we wished to breathe freely outside, also we knew that the sepulchre and its contents would be as safe as they had been for--well, how long?
It proved to be a beautiful morning outside. We walked up and down enjoying it sub-consciously, for really our--that is Bickley's and my own--intelligences were concentrated on that sepulchre and its contents. Where Bastin's may have been I do not know, perhaps in a visionary teapot, since I was sure that it would take him a day or two to appreciate the significance of our discoveries. At any rate, he wandered off, making no remarks about them, to drink water, I suppose.
Presently he began to shout to us from the end of the
table-rock and we went to see the reason of his noise. It proved to be very satisfactory, for while we were in the cave the
Orofenans had brought absolutely everything belonging to us, together with a large supply of food from the main island. Not a single article was missing; even our books, a can with the bottom out, and the broken pieces of a little pocket mirror had been religiously transported, and with these a few articles that had been stolen from us, notably my pocket-knife. Evidently a great taboo had been laid upon all our possessions. They were now carefully arranged in one of the grooves of the rock that Bickley supposed had been made by the wheels of aeroplanes, which was why we had not seen them at once.
Each of us rushed for what we desired most--Bastin for one of the canisters of tea, I for my diaries, and Bickley for his chest of instruments and medicines. These were removed to the mouth of the cave, and after them the other things and the food; also a bell tent and some camp furniture that we had brought from the ship. Then Bastin made some tea of which he drank four large pannikins, having first said grace over it with unwonted fervour. Nor did we disdain our share of the beverage, although Bickley preferred cocoa and I coffee. Cocoa and coffee we had no time to make then, and in view of that sepulchre in the cave, what had we to do with cocoa and coffee?
So Bickley and I said to each other, and yet presently he changed his mind and in a special metal machine carefully made some extremely strong black coffee which he poured into a thermos flask, previously warmed with hot water, adding thereto about a claret glass of brandy. Also he extracted certain drugs from his medicine-chest, and with them, as I noted, a hypodermic syringe, which he first boiled in a kettle and then shut up in a little tube with a glass stopper.
These preparations finished, he called to Tommy to give him the scraps of our meal. But there was no Tommy. The dog was missing, and though we hunted everywhere we could not find him. Finally we concluded that he had wandered off down the beach on business of his own and would return in due course. We could not bother about Tommy just then.
After making some further preparations and fidgeting about a little, Bickley announced that as we had now some proper paraffin lamps of the powerful sort which are known as "hurricane," he proposed by their aid to carry out further examinations in the cave.
"I think I shall stop where I am," said Bastin, helping himself from the kettle to a fifth pannikin of tea. "Those corpses are very interesting, but I don't see any use in staring at them again at present. One can always do that at any time. I have missed Marama once already by being away in that cave, and I have a lot to say to him about my people; I don't want to be absent in case he should return.""To wash up the things, I suppose," said Bickley with a sniff; "or perhaps to eat the tea-leaves."
"Well, as a matter of fact, I have noticed that these natives have a peculiar taste for tea-leaves. I think they believe them to be a medicine, but I don't suppose they would come so far for them, though perhaps they might in the hope of getting the head of Oro. Anyhow, I am going to stop here.""Pray do," said Bickley. "Are you ready, Humphrey?"
I nodded, and he handed to me a felt-covered flask of the nonconducting kind, filled with boiling water, a tin of preserved milk, and a little bottle of meat extract of a most concentrated sort. Then, having lit two of the hurricane lamps and seen that they were full of oil, we started back up the cave.Chapter XI Resurrection
We reached the sepulchre without stopping to look at the parked machines or even the marvelous statue that stood above it, for what did we care about machines or statues now? As we approached we were astonished to hear low and cavernous growlings."There is some wild beast in there," said Bickley, halting. "No, by George! it's Tommy. What can the dog be after?"
We peeped in, and there sure enough was Tommy lying on the top of the Glittering Lady's coffin and growling his very best with the hair standing up upon his back. When he saw who it was, however, he jumped off and frisked round, licking my hand."That's very strange," I exclaimed. "Not stranger than everything else," said Bickley. "What are you going to do?" I asked.
"Open these coffins," he answered, "beginning with that of the old god, since I would rather experiment on him. I expect he will crumble into dust. But if by chance he doesn't I'll jam a little strychnine, mixed with some other drugs, of which you don't know the names, into one of his veins and see if anything happens. If it doesn't, it won't hurt him, and if it does--well, who knows? Now give me a hand."
We went to the left-hand coffin and by inserting the hook on the back of my knife, of which the real use is to pick stones out of horses' hoofs, into one of the little air-holes I have described, managed to raise the heavy crystal lid sufficiently to enable us to force a piece of wood between it and the top. The rest was easy, for the hinges being of crystal had not corroded. In two minutes it was open.
From the chest came an overpowering spicy odour, and with it a veritable breath of warm air before which we recoiled a little. Bickley took a pocket thermometer which he had at hand and glanced at it. It marked a temperature of 82 degrees in the sepulchre. Having noted this, he thrust it into the coffin between the crystal wall and its occupant. Then we went out and waited a little while to give the odours time to dissipate, for they made the head reel.
After five minutes or so we returned and examined the thermometer. It had risen to 98 degrees, the natural temperature of the human body."What do you make of that if the man is dead?" he whispered.
I shook my head, and as we had agreed, set to helping him to lift the body from the coffin. It was a good weight, quite eleven stone I should say; moreover, it was not stiff, for the hip joints bent. We got it out and laid it on a blanket we had spread on the floor of the sepulchre. Whilst I was thus engaged I saw something that nearly caused me to loose my hold from astonishment. Beneath the head, the centre of the back and the feet were crystal boxes about eight inches square, or rather crystal blocks, for in them I could see no opening, and these boxes emitted a faint phosphorescent light. I touched one of them and found that it was quite warm."Great heavens!" I exclaimed, "here's magic."
"There's no such thing," answered Bickley in his usual formula. Then an explanation seemed to strike him and he added, "Not magic but radium or something of the sort. That's how the temperature was kept up. In sufficient quantity it is practically
indestructible, you see. My word! this old gentleman knew a thing or two."
Again we waited a little while to see if the body begun to crumble on exposure to the air, I taking the opportunity to make a rough sketch of it in my pocket-book in anticipation of that event. But it did not; it remained quite sound.
"Here goes," said Bickley. "If he should be alive, he will catch cold in his lungs after lying for ages in that baby incubator, as I suppose he has done. So it is now or never."
Then bidding me hold the man's right arm, he took the sterilized syringe which he had prepared, and thrusting the needle into a vein he selected just above the wrist, injected the contents.
"It would have been better over the heart," he whispered, "but I thought I would try the arm first. I don't like risking chills by uncovering him."I made no answer and again we waited and watched. "Great heavens, he's stirring!" I gasped presently. Stirring he was, for his fingers began to move.
Bickley bent down and placed his ear to the heart--I forgot to say that he had tested this before with a stethoscope, but had been unable to detect any movement."I believe it is beginning to beat," he said in an awed voice. Then he applied the stethoscope, and added, "It is, it is!"
Next he took a filament of cotton wool and laid it on the man's lips. Presently it moved; he was breathing, though very faintly. Bickley took more cotton wool and having poured something from his medicine-chest on to it, placed it over the mouth beneath the man's nostrils--I believe it was sal volatile.
Nothing further happened for a little while, and to relieve the strain on my mind I stared absently into the empty coffin. Here I saw what had escaped our notice, two small plates of white metal and cut upon them what I took to be star maps. Beyond these and the glowing boxes which I have mentioned, there was nothing else in the coffin. I had no time to examine them, for at that moment the old man opened his mouth and began to breathe, evidently with some discomfort and effort, as his empty lungs filled themselves with air. Then his eyelids lifted, revealing a wonderful pair of dark glowing eyes beneath. Next he tried to sit up but would have fallen, had not Bickley supported him with his arm.
I do not think he saw Bickley, indeed he shut his eyes again as though the light hurt them, and went into a kind of faint. Then it was that Tommy, who all this while had been watching the proceedings with grave interest, came forward, wagging his tail, and licked the man's face. At the touch of the dog's red tongue, he opened his eyes for the second time. Now he saw--not us but Tommy, for after contemplating him for a few seconds, something like a smile appeared upon his fierce but noble face. More, he lifted his hand and laid it on the dog's head, as though to pat it kindly. Half a minute or so later his awakening senses appreciated our presence. The incipient smile vanished and was replaced by a somewhat terrible frown.
Meanwhile Bickley had poured out some of the hot coffee laced with brandy into the cup that was screwed on the top of the thermos flask. Advancing to the man whom I supported, he put it to his lips. He tasted and made a wry face, but presently he began to sip, and ultimately swallowed it all. The effect of the stimulant was wonderful, for in a few minutes he came to life completely and was even able to sit up without support.
For quite a long while he gazed at us gravely, talking us in and everything connected with us. For instance, Bickley's medicinecase which lay open showing the little vulcanite tubes, a few instruments and other outfit, engaged his particular attention, and I saw at once that he understood what it was. Thus his arm still smarted where the needle had been driven in and on the blanket lay the syringe. He looked at his arm, then looked at the syringe, and nodded. The paraffin hurricane lamps also seemed to interest and win his approval. We two men, as I thought, attracted him least of all; he just summed us up and our garments, more especially the garments, with a few shrewd glances, and then seemed to turn his thoughts to Tommy, who had seated himself quite contentedly at his side, evidently accepting him as a new addition to our party.
I confess that this behaviour on Tommy's part reassured me not a little. I am a great believer in the instincts of animals, especially of dogs, and I felt certain that if this man had not been in all essentials human like ourselves, Tommy would not have tolerated him. In the same way the sleeper's clear liking for Tommy, at whom he looked much oftener and with greater kindness than he did at us, suggested that there was goodness in him somewhere, since although a dog in its wonderful tolerance may love a bad person in whom it smells out hidden virtue, no really bad person ever loved a dog, or, I may add, a child or a flower.
As a matter of fact, the "old god," as we had christened him while he was in his coffin, during all our association with him, cared infinitely more for Tommy than he did for any of us, a circumstance that ultimately was not without its influence upon our fortunes. But for this there was a reason as we learned afterwards, also he was not really so amiable as I hoped. When we had looked at each other for a long while the sleeper began to arrange his beard, of which the length seemed to surprise him, especially as Tommy was seated on one end of it. Finding this out and apparently not wishing to disturb Tommy, he gave up the occupation, and after one or two attempts, for his tongue and lips still seemed to be stiff, addressed us in some sonorous and musical language, unlike any that we had ever heard. We shook our heads. Then by an afterthought I said "Good day" to him in the language of the Orofenans. He puzzled over the word as though it were more or less familiar to him, and when I repeated it, gave it back to me with a difference indeed, but in a way which convinced us that he quite understood what I meant. The conversation went no further at the moment because just then some memory seemed to strike him.
He was sitting with his back against the coffin of the
Glittering Lady, whom therefore he had not seen. Now he began to turn round, and being too weak to do so, motioned me to help him. I obeyed, while Bickley, guessing his purpose, held up one of the hurricane lamps that he might see better. With a kind of fierce eagerness he surveyed her who lay within the coffin, and after he had done so, uttered a sigh as of intense relief.
Next he pointed to the metal cup out of which he had drunk. Bickley filled it again from the thermos flask, which I observed excited his keen interest, for, having touched the flask with his hand and found that it was cool, he appeared to marvel that the fluid coming from it should be hot and steaming. Presently he smiled as though he had got the clue to the mystery, and swallowed his second drink of coffee and spirit. This done, he motioned to us to lift the lid of the lady's coffin, pointing out a certain catch in the bolts which at first we could not master, for it will be remembered that on this coffin these were shot.
In the end, by pursuing the same methods that we had used in the instance of his own, we raised the coffin lid and once more were driven to retreat from the sepulchre for a while by the overpowering odour like to that of a whole greenhouse full of tuberoses, that flowed out of it, inducing a kind of stupefaction from which even Tommy fled.
When we returned it was to find the man kneeling by the side of the coffin, for as yet he could not stand, with his glowing eyes fixed upon the face of her who slept therein and waving his long arms above her.
"Hypnotic business! Wonder if it will work," whispered Bickley. Then he lifted the syringe and looked inquiringly at the man, who shook his head, and went on with his mesmeric passes.
I crept round him and took my stand by the sleeper's head, that I might watch her face, which was well worth watching, while Bickley, with his medicine at hand, remained near her feet, I think engaged in disinfecting the syringe in some spirit or acid. I believe he was about to make an attempt to use it when suddenly, as though beneath the influence of the hypnotic passes, a change appeared on the Glittering Lady's face. Hitherto, beautiful as it was, it had been a dead face though one of a person who had suddenly been cut off while in full health and vigour a few hours, or at the most a day or so before. Now it began to live again; it was as though the spirit were returning from afar, and not without toil and tribulation.
Expression after expression flitted across the features; indeed these seemed to change so much from moment to moment that they might have belonged to several different individuals, though each was beautiful. The fact of these remarkable changes with the suggestion of multiform personalities which they conveyed impressed both Bickley and myself very much indeed. Then the breast heaved tumultuously; it even appeared to struggle. Next the eyes opened. They were full of wonder, even of fear, but oh! what marvelous eyes. I do not know how to describe them, I cannot even state their exact colour, except that it was dark, something like the blue of sapphires of the deepest tint, and yet not black; large, too, and soft as a deer's. They shut again as though the light hurt them, then once more opened and wandered about, apparently without seeing.
At length they found my face, for I was still bending over her, and, resting there, appeared to take it in by degrees. More, it seemed to touch and stir some human spring in the still-sleeping heart. At least the fear passed from her features and was replaced by a faint smile, such as a patient sometimes gives to one known and well loved, as the effects of chloroform pass away. For a while she looked at me with an earnest, searching gaze, then suddenly, for the first time moving her arms, lifted them and threw them round my neck.
The old man stared, bending his imperial brows into a little frown, but did nothing. Bickley stared also through his glasses and sniffed as though in disapproval, while I remained quite still, fighting with a wild impulse to kiss her on the lips as one would an awakening and beloved child. I doubt if I could have done so, however, for really I was immovable; my heart seemed to stop and all my muscles to be paralysed.
I do not know for how long this endured, but I do know how it ended. Presently in the intense silence I heard Bastin's heavy voice and looking round, saw his big head projecting into the sepulchre.
"Well, I never!" he said, "you seem to have woke them up with a vengeance. If you begin like that with the lady, there will be complications before you have done, Arbuthnot."
Talk of being brought back to earth with a rush! I could have killed Bastin, and Bickley, turning on him like a tiger, told him to be off, find wood and light a large fire in front of the statue. I think he was about to argue when the Ancient gave him a glance of his fierce eyes, which alarmed him, and he departed, bewildered, to return presently with the wood.
But the sound of his voice had broken the spell. The Lady let her arms fall with a start, and shut her eyes again, seeming to faint. Bickley sprang forward with his sal volatile and applied it to her nostrils, the Ancient not interfering, for he seemed to recognise that he had to deal with a man of skill and one who meant well by them.
In the end we brought her round again and, to omit details, Bickley gave her, not coffee and brandy, but a mixture he compounded of hot water, preserved milk and meat essence. The effect of it on her was wonderful, since a few minutes after swallowing it she sat up in the coffin. Then we lifted her from that narrow bed in which she had slept for--ah! how long? and perceived that beneath her also were crystal boxes of the radiant, heat-giving substance. We sat her on the floor of the sepulchre, wrapping her also in a blanket.
Now it was that Tommy, after frisking round her as though in welcome of an old friend, calmly established himself beside her and laid his black head upon her knee. She noted it and smiled for the first time, a marvelously sweet and gentle smile. More, she placed her slender hand upon the dog and stroked him feebly.
Bickley tried to make her drink some more of his mixture, but she refused, motioning him to give it to Tommy. This, however, he would not do because there was but one cup. Presently both of the sleepers began to shiver, which caused Bickley anxiety. Abusing Bastin beneath his breath for being so long with the fire, he drew the blankets closer about them.
Then an idea came to him and he examined the glowing boxes in the coffin. They were loose, being merely set in prepared cavities in the crystal. Wrapping our handkerchiefs about his hand, he took them out and placed them around the wakened patients, a proceeding of which the Ancient nodded approval. Just then, too, Bastin returned with his first load of firewood, and soon we had a merry blaze going just outside the sepulchre. I saw that they observed the lighting of this fire by means of a match with much interest.
Now they grew warm again, as indeed we did also--too warm. Then in my turn I had an idea. I knew that by now the sun would be beating hotly against the rock of the mount, and suggested to Bickley, that, if possible, the best thing we could do would be to get them into its life-giving rays. He agreed, if we could make them understand and they were able to walk. So I tried. First I directed the Ancient's attention to the mouth of the cave which at this distance showed as a white circle of light. He looked at it and then at me with grave inquiry. I made motions to suggest that he should proceed there, repeating the word "Sun" in the Orofenan tongue. He understood at once, though whether he read my mind rather than what I said I am not sure. Apparently the Glittering Lady understood also and seemed to be most anxious to go. Only she looked rather pitifully at her feet and shook her head. This decided me.
I do not know if I have mentioned anywhere that I am a tall man and very muscular. She was tall, also, but as I judged not so very heavy after her long fast. At any rate I felt quite certain that I could carry her for that distance. Stooping down, I lifted her up, signing to her to put her arms round my neck, which she did. Then calling to Bickley and Bastin to bring along the Ancient between them, with some difficulty I struggled out of the sepulchre, and started down the cave. She was more heavy than I thought, and yet I could have wished the journey longer. To begin with she seemed quite trustful and happy in my arms, where she lay with her head against my shoulder, smiling a little as a child might do, especially when I had to stop and throw her long hair round my neck like a muffler, to prevent it from trailing in the dust.
A bundle of lavender, or a truss of new-mown hay, could not have been more sweet to carry and there was something electric about the touch of her, which went through and through me. Very soon it was over, and we were out of the cave into the full glory of the tropical sun. At first, that her eyes might become accustomed to its light and her awakened body to its heat, I set her down where shadow fell from the overhanging rock, in a canvas deck chair that had been brought by Marama with the other things, throwing the rug about her to protect her from such wind as there was. She nestled gratefully into the soft seat and shut her eyes, for the motion had tired her. I noted, however, that she drew in the sweet air with long breaths.
Then I turned to observe the arrival of the Ancient, who was being borne between Bickley and Bastin in what children know as a dandy-chair, which is formed by two people crossing their hands in a peculiar fashion. It says much for the tremendous dignity of his presence that even thus, with one arm round the neck of Bickley and the other round that of Bastin, and his long white beard falling almost to the ground, he still looked most imposing.
Unfortunately, however, just as they were emerging from the cave, Bastin, always the most awkward of creatures, managed to leave hold with one hand, so that his passenger nearly came to the ground. Never shall I forget the look that he gave him. Indeed, I think that from this moment he hated Bastin. Bickley he respected as a man of intelligence and learning, although in comparison with his own, the latter was infantile and crude; me he tolerated and even liked; but Bastin he detested. The only one of our party for whom he felt anything approaching real affection was the spaniel Tommy.
We set him down, fortunately uninjured, on some rugs, and also in the shadow. Then, after a little while, we moved both of them into the sun. It was quite curious to see them expand there. As Bickley said, what happened to them might well be compared to the development of a butterfly which has just broken from the living grave of its chrysalis and crept into the full, hot radiance of the light. Its crinkled wings unfold, their brilliant tints
develop; in an hour or two it is perfect, glorious, prepared for life and flight, a new creature.
So it was with this pair, from moment to moment they gathered strength and vigour. Near-by to them, as it happened, stood a large basket of the luscious native fruits brought that morning by the Orofenans, and at these the Lady looked with longing. With Bickley's permission, I offered them to her and to the Ancient, first peeling them with my fingers. They ate of them greedily, a full meal, and would have gone on had not the stern Bickley, fearing untoward consequences, removed the basket. Again the results were wonderful, for half an hour afterwards they seemed to be quite strong. With my assistance the Glittering Lady, as I still call her, for at that time I did not know her name, rose from the chair, and, leaning on me, tottered a few steps forward. Then she stood looking at the sky and all the lovely panorama of nature beneath, and stretching out her arms as though in worship. Oh! how beautiful she seemed with the sunlight shining on her heavenly face!
Now for the first time I heard her voice. It was soft and deep, yet in it was a curious bell-like tone that seemed to vibrate like the sound of chimes heard from far away. Never have I listened to such another voice. She pointed to the sun whereof the light turned her radiant hair and garments to a kind of golden glory, and called it by some name that I could not understand. I shook my head, whereon she gave it a different name taken, I suppose, from another language. Again I shook my head and she tried a third time. To my delight this word was
practically the same that the Orofenans used for "sun."
"A beautiful name for one who is beautiful," I declared with enthusiasm, of course always in the rich Orofenan dialect which by now I could talk well enough.
She repeated the words once or twice, then of a sudden caught their meaning, for she smiled and even coloured, saying hastily with a wave of her hand towards the Ancient who stood at a distance between Bastin and Bickley, "My father, Oro; great man; great king; great god!"
At this information I started, for it was startling to learn that here was the original Oro, who was still worshipped by the Orofenans, although of his actual existence they had known nothing for uncounted time. Also I was glad to learn that he was her father and not her old husband, for to me that would have been horrible, a desecration too deep for words."How long did you sleep, Yva?" I asked, pointing towards the sepulchre in the cave. After a little thought she understood and shook her head hopelessly, then by an afterthought, she said, "Stars tell Oro to-night."
So Oro was an astronomer as well as a king and a god. I had guessed as much from those plates in the coffin which seemed to have stars engraved on them.
At this point our conversation came to an end, for the Ancient himself approached, leaning on the arm of Bickley who was engaged in an animated argument with Bastin.
"For Heaven's sake!" said Bickley, "keep your theology to yourself at present. If you upset the old fellow and put him in a temper he may die.""If a man tells me that he is a god it is my duty to tell him that he is a liar," replied Bastin obstinately.
"Which you did, Bastin, only fortunately he did not understand you. But for your own sake I advise you not to take liberties. He is not one, I think, with whom it is wise to trifle. I think he seems thirsty. Go and get some water from the rain pool, not from the lake."
Bastin departed and presently returned with an aluminum jug full of pure water and a glass. Bickley poured some of it into a glass and handed it to Yva who bent her head in thanks. Then she did a curious thing. Having first lifted the glass with both hands to the sky and held it so for a few seconds, she turned and with an obeisance poured a little of it on the ground before her father's feet.A libation, thought I to myself, and evidently Bastin agreed with me, for I heard him mutter, "I believe she is making a heathen offering."
Doubtless we were right, for Oro accepted the homage by a little motion of the head. After this, at a sign from him she drank the water. Then the glass was refilled and handed to Oro who also held it towards the sky. He, however, made no libation but drank at once, two tumblers of it in rapid succession.
By now the direct sunlight was passing from the mouth of the cave, and though it was hot enough, both of them shivered a little. They spoke together in some language of which we could not understand a word, as though they were debating what their course of action should be. The dispute was long and earnest. Had we known what was passing, which I learned afterwards, it would have made us sufficiently anxious, for the point at issue was nothing less than whether we should or should not be forthwith destroyed--an end, it appears, that Oro was quite capable of bringing about if he so pleased. Yva, however, had very clear views of her own on the matter and, as I gather, even dared to threaten that she would protect us by the use of certain powers at her command, though what these were I do not know.
While the event hung doubtful Tommy, who was growing bored with these long proceedings, picked up a bough still covered with flowers which, after their pretty fashion, the Orofenans had placed on the top of one of the baskets of food. This small bough he brought and laid at the feet of Oro, no doubt in the hope that he would throw it for him to fetch, a game in which the dog delighted. For some reason Oro saw an omen in this simple canine performance, or he may have thought that the dog was making an offering to him, for he put his thin hand to his brow and thought a while, then motioned to Bastin to pick up the bough and give it to him.
Next he spoke to his daughter as though assenting to something, for I saw her sigh in relief. No wonder, for he was conveying his decision to spare our lives and admit us to their fellowship.
After this again they talked, but in quite a different tone and manner. Then the Glittering Lady said to me in her slow and archaic Orofenan:
"We go to rest. You must not follow. We come back perhaps tonight, perhaps next night. We are quite safe. You are quite safe under the beard of Oro. Spirit of Oro watch you. You understand?"I said I understood, whereon she answered: "Good-bye, O Humfe-ry." "Good-bye, O Yva," I replied, bowing.
Thereon they turned and refusing all assistance from us, vanished into the darkness of the cave leaning upon each other and walking slowly.Chapter XII Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Years! "You seem to have made the best of your time, old fellow," said Bickley in rather a sour voice.
"I never knew people begin to call each other by their Christian names so soon," added Bastin, looking at me with a suspicious eye."I know no other," I said.
"Perhaps not, but at any rate you have another, though you don't seem to have told it to her. Anyway, I am glad they are gone, for I was getting tired of being ordered by everybody to carry about wood and water for them. Also I am terribly hungry as I can't eat before it is light. They have taken most of the best fruit to which I was looking forward, but thank goodness they do not seem to care for pork.""So am I," said Bickley, who really looked exhausted. "Get the food, there's a good fellow. We'll talk afterwards."
When we had eaten, somewhat silently, I asked Bickley what he made of the business; also whither he thought the sleepers had gone.
"I think I can answer the last question," interrupted Bastin. "I expect it is to a place well known to students of the Bible which even Bickley mentions sometimes when he is angry. At any rate, they seem to be very fond of heat, for they wouldn't part from it even in their coffins, and you will admit that they are not quite natural, although that Glittering Lady is so attractive as regards her exterior."Bickley waved these remarks aside and addressed himself to me.
"I don't know what to think of it," he said; "but as the
experience is not natural and everything in the Universe, so far as we know it, has a natural explanation, I am inclined to the belief that we are suffering from hallucinations, which in their way are also quite natural. It does not seem possible that two people can really have been asleep for an unknown length of time enclosed in vessels of glass or crystal, kept warm by radium or some such substance, and then emerge from them comparatively strong and well. It is contrary to natural law."
"How about microbes?" I asked. "They are said to last practically for ever, and they are living things. So in their case your natural law breaks down."
"That is true," he answered. "Some microbes in a sealed tube and under certain conditions do appear to possess indefinite powers of life. Also radium has an indefinite life, but that is a mineral. Only these people are not microbes nor are they minerals. Also, experience tells us that they could not have lived for more than a few months at the outside in such circumstances as we seemed to find them."
"Then what do you suggest?" "I suggest that we did not really find them at all; that we have all been dreaming. You know that there are certain gases which produce illusions, laughing gas is one of them, and that these gases are sometimes met with in caves. Now there were very peculiar odours in that place under the statue, which may have worked upon our imaginations in some such way. Otherwise we are up against a miracle, and, as you know, I do not believe in miracles."
"I do," said Bastin calmly. "You'll find all about it in the Bible if you will only take the trouble to read. Why do you talk such rubbish about gases?""Because only gas, or something of the sort, could have made us imagine them."
"Nonsense, Bickley! Those people were here right enough. Didn't they eat our fruit and drink the water I brought them without ever saying thank you? Only, they are not human. They are evil spirits, and for my part I don't want to see any more of them, though I have no doubt Arbuthnot does, as that Glittering Lady threw her arms round his neck when she woke up, and already he is calling her by her Christian name, if the word Christian can be used in connection with her. The old fellow had the impudence to tell us that he was a god, and it is remarkable that he should have called himself Oro, seeing that the devil they worship on the island is also called Oro and the place itself is named Orofena."
"As to where they have gone," continued Bickley, taking no notice of Bastin, "I really don't know. My expectation is, however, that when we go to look tomorrow morning--and I suggest that we should not do so before then in order that we may give our minds time to clear--we shall find that sepulchre place quite empty, even perhaps without the crystal coffins we have imagined to stand there."
"Perhaps we shall find that there isn't a cave at all and that we are not sitting on a flat rock outside of it," suggested Bastin with heavy sarcasm, adding, "You are clever in your way, Bickley, but you can talk more rubbish than any man I ever knew.""They told us they would come back tonight or tomorrow," I said. "If they do, what will you say then, Bickley?"
"I will wait till they come to answer that question. Now let us go for a walk and try to change our thoughts. We are all over-strained and scarcely know what we are saying.""One more question," I said as we rose to start. "Did Tommy suffer from hallucinations as well as ourselves?" "Why not?" answered Bickley. "He is an animal just as we are, or perhaps we thought we saw Tommy do the things he did."
"When you found that basket of fruit, Bastin, which the natives brought over in the canoe, was there a bough covered with red flowers lying on the top of it?""Yes, Arbuthnot, one bough only; I threw it down on the rock as it got in the way when I was carrying the basket." "Which flowering bough we all thought we saw the Sleeper Oro carry away after Tommy had brought it to him." "Yes; he made me pick it up and give it to him," said Bastin.
"Well, if we did not see this it should still be lying on the rock, as there has been no wind and there are no animals here to carry it away. You will admit that, Bickley?"He nodded. "Then if it has gone you will admit also that the presumption is that we saw what we thought we did see?"
"I do not know how that conclusion can be avoided, at any rate so far as the incident of the bough is concerned," replied Bickley with caution.
Then, without more words, we started to look. At the spot where the bough should have been, there was no bough, but on the rock lay several of the red flowers, bitten off, I suppose, by Tommy while he was carrying it. Nor was this all. I think I have mentioned that the Glittering Lady wore sandals which were fastened with red studs that looked like rubies or carbuncles. On the rock lay one of these studs. I picked it up and we examined it. It had been sewn to the sandal-strap with golden thread or silk. Some of this substance hung from the hole drilled in the stone which served for an eye. It was as rotten as tinder, apparently with extreme age. Moreover, the hard gem itself was pitted as though the passage of time had taken effect upon it, though this may have been caused by other agencies, such as the action of the radium rays. I smiled at Bickley who looked disconcerted and even sad. In a way it is painful to see the effect upon an able and earnest man of the upsetting of his lifelong theories.
We went for our walk, keeping to the flat lands at the foot of the volcano cone, for we seemed to have had enough of wonders and to desire to reassure ourselves, as it were, by the study of natural and familiar things. As it chanced, too, we were rewarded by sundry useful discoveries. Thus we found a place where the bread-tree and other fruits, most of them now ripe, grew in abundance, as did the yam. Also, we came to an inlet that we noticed was crowded with large and beautiful fish from the lake, which seemed to find it a favourite spot. Perhaps this was because a little stream of excellent water ran in here,
overflowing from the great pool or mere which filled the crater above.
At these finds we rejoiced greatly, for now we knew that we need not fear starvation even should our supply of food from the main island be cut off. Indeed, by help of some palm-leaf stalks which we wove together roughly, Bastin, who was rather clever at this kind of thing, managed to trap four fish weighing two or three pounds apiece, wading into the water to do so. It was curious to observe with what ease he adapted himself to the manners and customs of primeval man, so much so, indeed, that Bickley remarked that if he could believe in re-incarnation, he would be absolutely certain that Bastin was a troglodyte in his last sojourn on the earth.
However this might be, Bastin's primeval instincts and
abilities were of the utmost service to us. Before we had been many days on that island he had built us a kind of native hut or house roofed with palm leaves in which, until provided with a better, as happened afterwards, we ate and he and Bickley slept, leaving the tent to me. Moreover, he wove a net of palm fibre with which he caught abundance of fish, and made fishing-lines of the same material (fortunately we had some hooks) which he baited with freshwater mussels and the insides of fish. By means of these he secured some veritable monsters of the carp species that proved most excellent eating. His greatest triumph, however, was a decoy which he constructed of boughs, wherein he trapped a number of waterfowl. So that soon we kept a very good table of a sort, especially after he had learned how to cook our food upon the native plan by means of hot stones. This suited us admirably, as it enabled Bickley and myself to devote all our time to archaeological and other studies which did not greatly interest Bastin.
By the time that we got back to camp it was drawing towards evening, so we cooked our food and ate, and then, thoroughly exhausted, made ourselves as comfortable as we could and went to sleep. Even our marvelous experiences could not keep Bickley and myself from sleeping, and on Bastin such things had no effect. He accepted them and that was all, much more readily than we did, indeed. Triple-armed as he was in the mail of a child-like faith, he snapped his fingers at evil spirits which he supposed the Sleepers to be, and at everything else that other men might dread.
Now, as I have mentioned, after our talk with Marama, although we did not think it wise to adventure ourselves among them again at present, we had lost all fear of the Orofenans. In this attitude, so far as Marama himself and the majority of his people were concerned, we were quite justified, for they were our warm friends. But in the case of the sorcerers, the priests and all their rascally and superstitious brotherhood, we were by no means justified. They had not forgiven Bastin his sacrilege or for his undermining of their authority by the preaching of new doctrines which, if adopted, would destroy them as a hierarchy. Nor had they forgiven Bickley for shooting one of their number, or any of us for our escape from the vengeance of their god.
So it came about that they made a plot to seize us all and hale us off to be sacrificed to a substituted image of Oro, which by now they had set up. They knew exactly where we slept upon the rock; indeed, our fire showed it to them and so far they were not afraid to venture, since here they had been accustomed for generations to lay their offerings to the god of the Mountain. Secretly on the previous night, without the knowledge of Marama, they had carried two more canoes to the borders of the lake. Now on this night, just as the moon was setting about three in the morning, they made their attack, twenty-one men in all, for the three canoes were large, relying on the following darkness to get us away and convey us to the place of sacrifice to be offered up at dawn and before Marama could interfere.
The first we knew of the matter, for most foolishly we had neglected to keep a watch, was the unpleasant sensation of brawny savages kneeling on us and trussing us up with palm-fibre ropes. Also they thrust handfuls of dry grass into our mouths to prevent us from calling out, although as air came through the interstices of the grass, we did not suffocate. The thing was so well done that we never struck a blow in self-defence, and although we had our pistols at hand, much less could we fire a shot. Of course, we struggled as well as we were able, but it was quite useless; in three minutes we were as helpless as calves in a net and like calves were being conveyed to the butcher. Bastin managed to get the gag out of his mouth for a few seconds, and I heard him say in his slow, heavy voice:
"This, Bickley, is what comes of trafficking with evil spirits in museum cases--" There his speech stopped, for the grass wad was jammed down his throat again, but distinctly I heard the inarticulate Bickley snort as he conceived the repartee he was unable to utter. As for myself, I reflected that the business served us right for not keeping a watch, and abandoned the issue to fate.
Still, to confess the truth, I was infinitely more sorry to die than I should have been forty-eight hours earlier. This is a dull and in most ways a dreadful world, one, if we could only summon the courage, that some of us would be glad to leave in search of new adventures. But here a great and unprecedented adventure had begun to befall me, and before its mystery was solved, before even I could formulate a theory concerning it, my body must be destroyed, and my intelligence that was caged therein, sent far afield; or, if Bickley were right, eclipsed. It seemed so sad just when the impossible, like an unguessed wandering moon, had risen over the grey flats of the ascertained and made them shine with hope and wonder.
They carried us off to the canoes, not too gently; indeed, I heard the bony frame of Bastin bump into the bottom of one of them and reflected, not without venom, that it served him right as he was the fount and origin of our woes. Two stinking magicians, wearing on their heads undress editions of their court cages, since these were too cumbersome for active work of the sort, and painted all over with various pigments, were just about to swing me after him into the same, or another canoe, when something happened. I did not know what it was, but as a result, my captors left hold of me so that I fell to the rock, lying upon my back.
Then, within my line of vision, which, it must be remembered, was limited because I could not lift my head, appeared the upper part of the tall person of the Ancient who said that he was named Oro. I could only see him down to his middle, but I noted vaguely that he seemed to be much changed. For instance, he wore a different coloured dress, or rather robe; this time it was dark blue, which caused me to wonder where on earth it came from. Also, his tremendous beard had been trimmed and dressed, and on his head there was a simple black cap, strangely quilted, which looked as though it were made of velvet. Moreover, his face had plumped out. He still looked ancient, it is true, and unutterably wise, but now he resembled an antique youth, so great were his energy and vigour. Also, his dark and glowing eyes shone with a fearful intensity. In short, he seemed impressive and terrible almost beyond imagining.He looked about him slowly, then asked in a deep, cold voice, speaking in the Orofenan tongue: "What do you, slaves?"
No one seemed able to answer, they were too horror-stricken at this sudden vision of their fabled god, whose fierce features of wood had become flesh; they only turned to fly. He waved his thin hand and they came to a standstill, like animals which have reached the end of their tether and are checked by the chains that bind them. There they stood in all sorts of postures, immovable and looking extremely ridiculous in their paint and feathers, with dread unutterable stamped upon their evil faces.The Sleeper spoke again:
"You would murder as did your forefathers, O children of snakes and hogs fashioned in the shape of men. You would sacrifice those who dwell in my shadow to satisfy your hate because they are wiser than you. Come hither thou," and he beckoned with a bony finger to the chief magician.
The man advanced towards him in short jumps, as a mechanical toy might do, and stood before him, his miniature crate and feathers all awry and the sweat of terror melting the paint in streaks upon his face."Look into the eyes of Oro, O worshipper of Oro," said the Sleeper, and he obeyed, his own eyes starting out of his head.
"Receive the curse of Oro," said the Ancient again. Then followed a terrible spectacle. The man went raving mad. He bounded into the air to a height inconceivable. He threw himself upon the ground and rolled upon the rock. He rose again and staggered round and round, tearing pieces out of his arms with his teeth. He yelled hideously like one possessed. He grovelled, beating his forehead against the rock. Then he sat up, slowly choked and--died.
His companions seemed to catch the infection of death as terrified savages often do. They too performed dreadful antics, all except three of them who stood paralysed. They rushed about battering each other with their fists and wooden weapons, looking like devils from hell in their hideous painted attire. They grappled and fought furiously. They separated and plunged into the lake, where with a last grimace they sank like stones.
It seemed to last a long while, but I think that as a matter of fact within five minutes it was over; they were all dead. Only the three paralysed ones remained standing and rolling their eyes.The Sleeper beckoned to them with his thin finger, and they walked forward in step like soldiers. "Lift that man from the boat," he said, pointing to Bastin, "cut his bonds and those of the others."
They obeyed with a wonderful alacrity. In a minute we stood at liberty and were pulling the grass gags from our mouths. The Ancient pointed to the head magician who lay dead upon the rock, his hideous, contorted countenance staring open-eyed at heaven.
"Take that sorcerer and show him to the other sorcerers yonder," he said, "and tell them where your fellows are if they would find them. Know by these signs that the Oro, god of the Mountain, who has slept a while, is awake, and ill will it go with them who question his power or dare to try to harm those who dwell in his house. Bring food day by day and await commands. Begone!"
The dreadful-looking body was bundled into one of the canoes, that out of which Bastin had emerged. A rower sprang into each of them and presently was paddling as he had never done before. As the setting moon vanished, they vanished with it, and once more there was a great silence.
"I am going to find my boots," said Bastin. "This rock is hard and I hurt my feet kicking at those poor fellows who appear to have come to a bad end, how, I do not exactly understand. Personally, I think that more allowances should have been made for them, as I hope will be the case elsewhere, since after all they only acted according to their lights.""Curse their lights!" ejaculated Bickley, feeling his throat which was bruised. "I'm glad they are out."
Bastin limped away in search of his boots, but Bickley and I stood where we were contemplating the awakened Sleeper. All recollection of the recent tumultuous scene seemed to have passed from his mind, for he was engaged in a study of the heavens. They were wonderfully brilliant now that the moon was down, brilliant as they only can be in the tropics when the sky is clear.
Something caused me to look round, and there, coming towards us, was she who said her name was Yva. Evidently all her weakness had departed also, for now she needed no support, but walked with a peculiar gliding motion that reminded me of a swan floating forward on the water. Well had we named her the Glittering Lady, for in the starlight literally she seemed to glitter. I suppose the effect came from her golden raiment, which, however, I noticed, as in her father's case, was not the same that she had worn in the coffin; also from her hair that seemed to give out a light of its own. At least, she shimmered as she came, her tall shape swaying at every step like a willow in the wind. She drew near, and I saw that her face, too, had filled out and now was that of one in perfect health and vigour, while her eyes shone softly and seemed wondrous large.
In her hands she carried those two plates of metal which I had seen lying in the coffin of the Sleeper Oro. These she gave to him, then fell back out of his hearing--if it were ever possible to do this, a point on which I am not sure--and began to talk to me. I noted at once that in the few hours during which she was absent, her knowledge of the Orofenan tongue seemed to have improved greatly as though she had drunk deeply from some hidden fount of memory. Now she spoke it with readiness, as Oro had done when he addressed the sorcerers, although many of the words she used were not known to me, and the general form of her language appeared archaic, as for instance that of Spenser is compared with modern English. When she saw I did not comprehend her, however, she would stop and cast her sentences in a different shape, till at length I caught her meaning. Now I give the substance of what she said.
"You are safe," she began, glancing first at the palm ropes that lay upon the rock and then at my wrists, one of which was cut."Yes, Lady Yva, thanks to your father."
"You should say thanks to me. My father was thinking of other things, but I was thinking of you strangers, and from where I was I saw those wicked ones coming to kill you.""Oh! from the top of the mountain, I suppose."
She shook her head and smiled but vouchsafed no further explanation, unless her following words can be so called. These were:"I can see otherwise than with my eyes, if I choose." A statement that caused Bickley, who was listening, to mutter: "Impossible! What the deuce can she mean? Telepathy, perhaps." "I saw," she continued, "and told the Lord, my father. He came forth. Did he kill them? I did not look to learn." "Yes. They lie in the lake, all except three whom he sent away as messengers."
"I thought so. Death is terrible, O Humphrey, but it is a sword which those who rule must use to smite the wicked and the savage."Not wishing to pursue this subject, I asked her what her father was doing with the metal plates.
"He reads the stars," she answered, "to learn how long we have been asleep. Before we went to sleep he made two pictures of them, as they were then and as they should be at the time he had set for our awakening.""We set that time," interrupted Bickley.
"Not so, O Bickley," she answered, smiling again. "In the divine Oro's head was the time set. You were the hand that executed his decree."When Bickley heard this I really thought he would have burst. However, he controlled himself nobly, being anxious to hear the end of this mysterious fib. "How long was the time that the lord Oro set apart for sleep?" I asked. She paused as though puzzled to find words to express her meaning, then held up her hands and said: "Ten," nodding at her fingers. By second thoughts she took Bickley's hands, not mine, and counted his ten fingers. "Ten years," said Bickley. "Well, of course, it is impossible, but perhaps--" and he paused. "Ten tens," she went on with a deepening smile, "one hundred." "O!" said Bickley. "Ten hundreds, one thousand." "I say!" said Bickley. "Ten times ten thousand, one hundred thousand." Bickley became silent.
"Twice one hundred thousand and half a hundred thousand, two hundred and fifty thousand years. That was the space of time which the lord Oro, my father, set for our sleep. Whether it has been fulfilled he will know presently when he has read the book of the stars and made comparison of it with what he wrote before we laid us down to rest," and she pointed to the metal plates which the Ancient was studying.
Bickley walked away, making sounds as though he were going to be ill and looking so absurd in his indignation that I nearly laughed. The Lady Yva actually did laugh, and very musical was that laugh.
"He does not believe," she said. "He is so clever he knows everything. But two hundred and fifty thousand years ago we should have thought him quite stupid. Then we could read the stars and calculate their movements for ever."
"So can we," I answered, rather nettled. "I am glad, O Humphrey, since you will be able to show my father if in one of them he is wrong."
Secretly I hoped that this task would not be laid on me. Indeed, I thought it well to change the subject for the edification of Bickley who had recovered and was drawn back by his eager curiosity. Just then, too, Bastin joined us, happy in his regained boots.
"You tell us, Lady Yva," I said, "that you slept, or should have slept for two hundred and fifty thousand years." Here Bastin opened his eyes. "If that was so, where was your mind all this time?"
"If by my mind you mean spirit, O Humphrey, I have to answer that at present I do not know for certain. I think, however, that it dwelt elsewhere, perhaps in other bodies on the earth, or some different earth. At least, I know that my heart is very full of memories which as yet I cannot unroll and read.""Great heavens, this is madness!" said Bickley.
"In the great heavens," she answered slowly, "there are many things which you, poor man, would think to be madness, but yet are truth and perfect wisdom. These things, or some of them, soon I shall hope to show you.""Do if you can," said Bickley.
"Why not?" interrupted Bastin. "I think the lady's remarks quite reasonable. It seems to me highly improbable if really she has slept for two hundred and fifty thousand years, which, of course, I can't decide, that an immortal spirit would be allowed to remain idle for so long. That would be wallowing in a bed of idleness and shirking its duty which is to do its work. Also, as she tells you, Bickley, you are not half so clever as you think you are in your silly scepticism, and I have no doubt that there are many things in other worlds which would expose your ignorance, if only you could see them."At this moment Oro turned and called his daughter. She went at once, saying: "Come, strangers, and you shall learn."
So we followed her. "Daughter," he said, speaking in Orofenan, I think that we might understand, "ask these strangers to bring one of those lamps of theirs that by the light of it I may study these writings."
"Perhaps this may serve," said Bickley, suddenly producing an electric torch from his pocket and flashing it into his face. It was his form of repartee for all he had suffered at the hands of this incomprehensible pair. Let me say at once that it was singularly successful. Perhaps the wisdom of the ages in which Oro flourished had overlooked so small a matter as electric torches, or perhaps he did not expect to meet with them in these degenerate days. At any rate for the first and last time in my intercourse with him I saw the god, or lord--the native word bears either meaning--Oro genuinely astonished. He started and stepped back, and for a moment or two seemed a little frightened. Then muttering something as to the cleverness of this light-producing instrument, he motioned to his daughter to take it from Bickley and hold it in a certain position. She obeyed, and in its illumination he began to study the engraved plates, holding one of them in either hand.
After a while he gave me one of the plates to hold, and with his disengaged hand pointed successively to the constellation of Orion, to the stars Castor, Pollux, Aldebaran, Rigel, the Pleiades, Sirius and others which with my very limited knowledge I could not recognise offhand. Then on the plate which I held, he showed us those same stars and constellations, checking them one by one.Then he remarked very quietly that all was in order, and handing the plate he held to Yva, said:
"The calculations made so long ago are correct, nor have the stars varied in their proper motions during what is after all but an hour of time. If you, Stranger, who, I understand, are named Humphrey, should be, as I gather, a heaven-master, naturally you will ask me how I could fix an exact date by the stars without an error of, let us say, from five to ten thousand years. I answer you that by the proper motion of the stars alone it would have been difficult. Therefore I remember that in order to be exact, I calculated the future conjunctions of those two planets," and he pointed to Saturn and Jupiter. "Finding that one of these occurred near yonder star," and he indicated the bright orb, Spica, "at a certain time, I determined that then I would awake. Behold! There are the stars as I engraved them from my foreknowledge, upon this chart, and there those two great planets hang in conjunction. Daughter Yva, my wisdom has not failed me. This world of ours has travelled round the sun neither less nor more than two hundred and fifty thousand times since we laid ourselves down to sleep. It is written here, and yonder," and he pointed, first to the engraved plates and then to the vast expanse of the starlit heavens.
Awe fell on me; I think that even Bickley and Bastin were awed, at any rate for the moment. It was a terrible thing to look on a being, to all appearance more or less human, who alleged that he had been asleep for two hundred and fifty thousand years, and proceeded to prove it by certain ancient star charts. Of course at the time I could not check those charts, lacking the necessary knowledge, but I have done so since and found that they are quite accurate. However this made no difference, since the circumstances and something in his manner convinced me that he spoke the absolute truth.
He and his daughter had been asleep for two hundred and fifty thousand years. Oh! Heavens, for two hundred and fifty thousand years!Chapter XIII Oro Speaks and Bastin Argues
The reader of what I have written, should there ever be such a person, may find the record marvelous, and therefore rashly conclude that because it is beyond experience, it could not be. It is not a wise deduction, as I think Bickley would admit today, because without doubt many things are which surpass our extremely limited experience. However, those who draw the veil from the Unknown and reveal the New, must expect incredulity, and accept it without grumbling. Was that not the fate, for instance, of those who in the Middle Ages, a few hundred years ago, discovered, or rather rediscovered the mighty movements of those constellations which served Oro for an almanac?
But the point I want to make is that if the sceptic plays a Bickleyan part as regards what has been written, it seems probable that his attitude will be accentuated as regards that which it still remains for me to write. If so, I cannot help it, and must decline entirely to water down or doctor facts and thus pander to his prejudice and ignorance. For my part I cannot attempt to explain these occurrences; I only know that they happened and that I set down what I saw, heard and felt, neither more nor less.
Immediately after Oro had triumphantly vindicated his stellar calculations he turned and departed into the cave, followed by his daughter, waving to us to remain where we were. As she passed us, however, the Glittering Lady whispered--this time to Bastin-that he would see them again in a few hours, adding:
"We have much to learn and I hope that then you who, I understand, are a priest, will begin to teach us of your religion and other matters."Bastin was so astonished that he could make no reply, but when they had gone he said: "Which of you told her that I was a priest?" We shook our heads for neither of us could remember having done so.
"Well, I did not," continued Bastin, "since at present I have found no opportunity of saying a word in season. So I suppose she must have gathered it from my attire, though as a matter of fact I haven't been wearing a collar, and those men who wanted to cook me, pulled off my white tie and I didn't think it worth while dirtying a clean one."
"If," said Bickley, "you imagine that you look like the
minister of any religion ancient or modern in a grubby flannel shirt, a battered sun-helmet, a torn green and white umbrella and a pair of ragged duck trousers, you are mistaken, Bastin, that is all."
"These people seem to have ways of learning a good many things. But in your case, Bastin, the cause is clear enough. You have been walking about with the head of that idol and always keep it close to you. No doubt they believe that you are a priest of the worship of the god of the Grove--Baal, you know, or something of that sort."
When he heard this Bastin's face became a perfect picture. Never before did I see it so full of horror struggling with indignation."I must undeceive them without a moment's delay," he said, and was starting for the cave when we caught his arms and held him.
"Better wait till they come back, old fellow," I said,
laughing. "If you disobey that Lord Oro you may meet with another experience in the sacrifice line."
In the end he did prepare breakfast though in a distrait fashion; indeed I found him beginning to make tea in the frying-pan. Bastin felt that his opportunity had arrived, and was making ready to rise to the occasion.
Also we felt, all three of us, that we were extremely shabbylooking objects, and though none of us said so, each did his best to improve his personal appearance. First of all Bickley cut Bastin's and my hair, after which I did him the same service. Then Bickley who was normally clean shaven, set to work to remove a beard of about a week's growth, and I who wore one of the pointed variety, trimmed up mine as best I could with the help of a hand-glass. Bastin, too, performed on his which was of the square and rather ragged type, wisely rejecting Bickley's advice to shave it off altogether, offered, I felt convinced, because he felt that the result on Bastin would be too hideous for words. After this we cut our nails, cleaned our teeth and bathed; I even caught Bickley applying hair tonic from his dressing case in secret, behind a projecting rock, and borrowed some myself. He gave it me on condition that I did not mention its existence to Bastin who, he remarked, would certainly use the lot and make himself smell horrible.
Next we found clean ducks among our store of spare clothes, for the Orofenans had brought these with our other possessions, and put them on, even adding silk cumberbunds and neckties. My tie I fastened with a pin that I had obtained in Egypt. It was a tiny gold statuette of very fine and early workmanship, of the god Osiris, wearing the crown of the Upper Land with the uraeus crest, and holding in his hands, which projected from the mummy wrappings, the emblems of the crook, the scourge and the crux ansata, or Sign of Life.
Bastin, for his part, arrayed himself in full clerical costume, black coat and trousers, white tie and stick-up clergyman's collar which, as he remarked, made him feel extremely hot in that climate, and were unsuitable to domestic duties, such as washing-up. I offered to hold his coat while he did this office and told him he looked very nice indeed.
"Beautiful!" remarked Bickley, "but why don't you put on your surplice and biretta?" (Being very High-Church Bastin did wear a biretta on festival Sundays at home.) "There would be no mistake about you then."
"I do not think it would be suitable," replied Bastin whose sense of humour was undeveloped. "There is no service to be performed at present and no church, though perhaps that cave--" and he stopped.
When we had finished these vain adornments and Bastin had put away the things and tidied up, we sat down, rather at a loose end. We should have liked to walk but refrained from doing so for fear lest we might dirty our clean clothes. So we just sat and thought. At least Bickley thought, and so did I for a while until I gave it up. What was the use of thinking, seeing that we were face to face with circumstances which baffled reason and beggared all recorded human experience? What Bastin did I am sure I do not know, but I think from the expression of his countenance that he was engaged in composing sermons for the benefit of Oro and the Glittering Lady.
One diversion we did have. About eleven o'clock a canoe came from the main island laden with provisions and paddled by Marama and two of his people. We seized our weapons, remembering our experiences of the night, but Marama waved a bough in token of peace. So, carrying our revolvers, we went to the rock edge to meet him. He crept ashore and, chief though he was, prostrated himself upon his face before us, which told me that he had heard of the fate of the sorcerers. His apologies were abject. He explained that he had no part in the outrage of the attack, and besought us to intercede on behalf of him and his people with the awakened god of the Mountain whom he looked for with a terrified air.
We consoled him as well as we could, and told him that he had best be gone before the god of the Mountain appeared, and perhaps treated him as he had done the sorcerers. In his name, however, we commanded Marama to bring materials and build us a proper house upon the rock, also to be sure to keep up a regular and ample supply of provisions. If he did these things, and anything else we might from time to time command, we said that perhaps his life and those of his people would be spared. This, however, after the evil behaviour of some of them of course we could not guarantee.
Marama departed so thoroughly frightened that he even forgot to make any inquiries as to who this god of the Mountain might be, or where he came from, or whither he was going. Of course, the place had been sacred among his people from the beginning, whenever that may have been, but that its sacredness should materialise into an active god who brought sorcerers of the highest reputation to a most unpleasant end, just because they wished to translate their preaching into practice, was another matter. It was not to be explained even by the fact of which he himself had informed me, that during the dreadful storm of some months before, the cave mouth which previously was not visible on the volcano, had suddenly been lifted up above the level of the Rock of Offerings, although, of course, all religious and instructed persons would have expected something peculiar to happen after this event.
Such I knew were his thoughts, but, as I have said, he was too frightened and too hurried to express them in questions that I should have found it extremely difficult to answer. As it was he departed quite uncertain as to whether one of us was not the real "god of the Mountain," who had power to bring hideous death upon his molesters. After all, what had he to go on to the contrary, except the word of three priests who were so terrified that they could give no coherent account of what had happened? Of these events, it was true, there was evidence in the twisted carcass of their lamented high sorcerer, and, for the matter of that, of certain corpses which he had seen, that lay in shallow water at the bottom of the lake. Beyond all was vague, and in his heart I am sure that Marama believed that Bastin was the real "god of the Mountain." Naturally, he would desire to work vengeance on those who tried to sacrifice and eat him. Moreover, had he not destroyed the image of the god of the Grove and borne away its head whence he had sucked magic and power?
Thus argued Marama, disbelieving the tale of the frightened sorcerers, for he admitted as much to me in after days.
Marama departed in a great hurry, fearing lest the "god of the Mountain," or Bastin, whose new and splendid garb he regarded with much suspicion, might develop some evil energy against him. Then we went back to our camp, leaving the industrious Bastin, animated by a suggestion from Bickley that the fruit and food might spoil if left in the sun, to carry it into the shade of the cave. Owing to the terrors of the Orofenans the supply was so large that to do this he must make no fewer than seven journeys, which he did with great good will since Bastin loved physical exercise. The result on his clerical garments, however, was disastrous. His white tie went awry, squashed fruit and roast pig gravy ran down his waistcoat and trousers, and his high collar melted into limp crinkles in the moisture engendered by the tropical heat. Only his long coat escaped, since that Bickley kindly carried for him.
It was just as he arrived with the seventh load in this
extremely dishevelled condition that Oro and his daughter emerged from the cave. Indeed Bastin, who, being shortsighted, always wore spectacles that, owing to his heated state were covered with mist, not seeing that dignitary, dumped down the last basket on to his toes, exclaiming:
Oro, however, who at his age did not appreciate jokes, resented it and was about to do something unpleasant when with extraordinary tact his daughter remarked:"Bastin the priest makes you offerings. Thank him, O Lord my father."
So Oro thanked him, not too cordially for evidently he still had feeling in his toes, and once more Bastin escaped. Becoming aware of his error, he began to apologise profusely in English, while the lady Yva studied him carefully.
"Is that the costume of the priests of your religion, O Bastin?" she asked, surveying his dishevelled form. "If so, you were better without it."
Then Bastin retired to straighten his tie, and grabbing his coat from Bickley, who handed it to him with a malicious smile, forced his perspiring arms into it in a peculiarly awkward and elephantine fashion.
Meanwhile Bickley and I produced two camp chairs which we had made ready, and on these the wondrous pair seated themselves side by side."We have come to learn," said Oro. "Teach!"
"Not so, Father," interrupted Yva, who, I noted, was clothed in yet a third costume, though whence these came I could not imagine. "First I would ask a question. Whence are you, Strangers, and how came you here?"
"We are from the country called England and a great storm shipwrecked us here; that, I think, which raised the mouth of the cave above the level of this rock," I answered."The time appointed having come when it should be raised," said Oro as though to himself. "Where is England?" asked Yva.
Now among the books we had with us was a pocket atlas, quite a good one of its sort. By way of answer I opened it at the map of the world and showed her England. Also I showed, to within a thousand miles or so, that spot on the earth's surface where we spoke together.
The sight of this atlas excited the pair greatly. They had not the slightest difficulty in understanding everything about it and the shape of the world with its division into hemispheres seemed to be quite familiar to them. What appeared chiefly to interest them, and especially Oro, were the relative areas and positions of land and sea.
"Of this, Strangers," he said, pointing to the map, "I shall have much to say to you when I have studied the pictures of your book and compared them with others of my own.""So he has got maps," said Bickley in English, "as well as star charts. I wonder where he keeps them." "With his clothes, I expect," suggested Bastin. Meanwhile Oro had hidden the atlas in his ample robe and motioned to his daughter to proceed. "Why do you come here from England so far away?" the Lady Yva asked, a question to which each of us had an answer. "To see new countries," I said. "Because the cyclone brought us," said Bickley. "To convert the heathen to my own Christian religion," said Bastin, which was not strictly true. It was on this last reply that she fixed. "What does your religion teach?" she asked.
"It teaches that those who accept it and obey its commands will live again after death for ever in a better world where is neither sorrow nor sin," he answered.When he heard this saying I saw Oro start as though struck by a new thought and look at Bastin with a curious intentness. "Who are the heathen?" Yva asked again after a pause, for she also seemed to be impressed. "All who do not agree with Bastin's spiritual views," answered Bickley.
"Those who, whether from lack of instruction or from hardness of heart, do not follow the true faith. For instance, I suppose that your father and you are heathen," replied Bastin stoutly.This seemed to astonish them, but presently Yva caught his meaning and smiled, while Oro said: "Of this great matter of faith we will talk later. It is an old question in the world."
"Why," went on Yva, "if you wished to travel so far did you come in a ship that so easily is wrecked? Why did you not journey through the air, or better still, pass through space, leaving your bodies asleep, as, being instructed, doubtless you can do?""As regards your first question," I answered, "there are no aircraft known that can make so long a journey."
"And as regards the second," broke in Bickley, "we did not do so because it is impossible for men to transfer themselves to other places through space either with or without their bodies."At this information the Glittering Lady lifted her arched eyebrows and smiled a little, while Oro said: "I perceive that the new world has advanced but a little way on the road of knowledge." Fearing that Bastin was about to commence an argument, I began to ask questions in my turn.
"Lord Oro and Lady Yva," I said, "we have told you something of ourselves and will tell you more when you desire it. But pardon us if first we pray you to tell us what we burn to know. Who are you? Of what race and country? And how came it that we found you sleeping yonder?""If it be your pleasure, answer, my Father," said Yva. Oro thought a moment, then replied in a calm voice:
"I am a king who once ruled most of the world as it was in my day, though it is true that much of it rebelled against me, my councillors and servants. Therefore I destroyed the world as it was then, save only certain portions whence life might spread to the new countries that I raised up. Having done this I put myself and my daughter to sleep for a space of two hundred and fifty thousand years, that there might be time for fresh civilisations to arise. Now I begin to think that I did not allot a sufficiency of ages, since I perceive from what you tell me, that the learning of the new races is as yet but small."
Bickley and I looked at each other and were silent. Mentally we had collapsed. Who could begin to discuss statements built upon such a foundation of gigantic and paralysing falsehoods?
Well, Bastin could for one. With no more surprise in his voice than if he were talking about last night's dinner, he said: "There must be a mistake somewhere, or perhaps I misunderstand you. It is obvious that you, being a man, could not have destroyed the world. That could only be done by the Power which made it and you."I trembled for the results of Bastin's methods of setting out the truth. To my astonishment, however, Oro replied: "You speak wisely, Priest, but the Power you name may use instruments to accomplish its decrees. I am such an instrument."
"Quite so," said Bastin, "just like anybody else. You have more knowledge of the truth than I thought. But pray, how did you destroy the world?"
"Using my wisdom to direct the forces that are at work in the heart of this great globe, I drowned it with a deluge, causing one part to sink and another to rise, also changes of climate which completed the work."
"That's quite right," exclaimed Bastin delightedly. "We know all about the Deluge, only you are not mentioned in connection with the matter. A man, Noah, had to do with it when he was six hundred years old.""Six hundred?" said Oro. "That is not very old. I myself had seen more than a thousand years when I lay down to sleep."
"A thousand!" remarked Bastin, mildly interested. "That is unusual, though some of these mighty men of renown we know lived over nine hundred."Here Bickley snorted and exclaimed: "Nine hundred moons, he means."
"I did not know Noah," went on Oro. "Perhaps he lived after my time and caused some other local deluge. Is there anything else you wish to ask me before I leave you that I may study this map writing?""Yes," said Bastin. "Why were you allowed to drown your world?"
"Because it was evil, Priest, and disobeyed me and the Power I serve."
"Oh! thank you," said Bastin, "that fits in exactly. It was just the same in Noah's time."
"I pray that it is not just the same now," said Oro, rising. "To-morrow we will return, or if I do not who have much that I must do, the lady my daughter will return and speak with you further."He departed into the cave, Yva following at a little distance.
I accompanied her as far as the mouth of the cave, as did Tommy, who all this time had been sitting contentedly upon the hem of her gorgeous robe, quite careless of its immemorial age, if it was immemorial and not woven yesterday, a point on which I had no information."Lady Yva," I said, "did I rightly understand the Lord Oro to say that he was a thousand years old?" "Yes, O Humphrey, and really he is more, or so I think." "Then are you a thousand years old also?" I asked, aghast. "No, no," she replied, shaking her head, "I am young, quite young, for I do not count my time of sleep." "Certainly you look it," I said. "But what, Lady Yva, do you mean by young?" She answered my question by another. "What age are your women when they are as I am?" "None of our women were ever quite like you, Lady Yva. Yet, say from twenty-five to thirty years of age."
"Ah! I have been counting and now I remember. When my father sent me to sleep I was twenty-seven years old. No, I will not deceive you, I was twenty-seven years and three moons." Then, saying something to the effect that she would return, she departed, laughing a little in a mischievous way, and, although I did not observe this till afterwards, Tommy departed with her.When I repeated what she had said to Bastin and Bickley, who were standing at a distance straining their ears and somewhat aggrieved, the former remarked:
"If she is twenty-seven her father must have married late in life, though of course it may have been a long while before he had children."Then Bickley, who had been suppressing himself all this while, went off like a bomb.
"Do you tell us, Bastin," he asked, "that you believe one word of all this ghastly rubbish? I mean as to that antique charlatan being a thousand years old and having caused the Flood and the rest?"
"If you ask me, Bickley, I see no particular reason to doubt it at present. A person who can go to sleep in a glass coffin kept warm by a pocketful of radium together with very accurate maps of the constellations at the time he wakes up, can, I imagine, do most things.""Even cause the Deluge," jeered Bickley.
"I don't know about the Deluge, but perhaps he may have been permitted to cause a deluge. Why not? You can't look at things from far enough off, Bickley. And if something seems big to you, you conclude that therefore it is impossible. The same Power which gives you skill to succeed in an operation, that hitherto was held impracticable, as I know you have done once or twice, may have given that old fellow power to cause a deluge. You should measure the universe and its possibilities by worlds and not by acres, Bickley."
"And believe, I suppose, that a man can live a thousand years, whereas we know well that he cannot live more than about a hundred."
"You don't know anything of the sort, Bickley. All you know is that over the brief period of history with which we are acquainted, say ten thousand years at most, men have only lived to about a hundred. But the very rocks which you are so fond of talking about, tell us that even this planet is millions upon millions of years of age. Who knows then but that at some time in its history, men did not live for a thousand years, and that lost civilisations did not exist of which this Oro and his daughter may be two survivors?"
"There is no proof of anything of the sort," said Bickley.
"I don't know about proof, as you understand it, though I have read in Plato of a continent called Atlantis that was submerged, according to the story of old Egyptian priests. But personally I have every proof, for it is all written down in the Bible at which you turn tip your nose, and I am very glad that I have been lucky enough to come across this unexpected confirmation of the story. Not that it matters much, since I should have learned all about it when it pleases Providence to remove me to a better world, which in our circumstances may happen any day. Now I must change my clothes before I see to the cooking and other things."
"I am bound to admit," said Bickley, looking after him, "that old Bastin is not so stupid as he seems. From his point of view the arguments he advances are quite logical. Moreover I think he is right when he says that we look at things through the wrong end of the telescope. After all the universe is very big and who knows what may happen there? Who knows even what may have happened on this little earth during the aeons of its existence, whenever its balance chanced to shift, as the Ice Ages show us it has often done? Still I believe that old Oro to be a Prince of Liars."
"That remains to be proved," I answered cautiously. "All I know is that he is a wonderfully learned person of most remarkable appearance, and that his daughter is the loveliest creature I ever saw."
"There I agree," said Bickley decidedly, "and as brilliant as she is lovely. If she belongs to a past civilisation, it is a pity that it ever became extinct. Now let's go and have a nap. Bastin will call us when supper is ready."Chapter XIV The Under-world
That night we slept well and without fear, being quite certain that after their previous experience the Orofenans would make no further attempts upon us. Indeed our only anxiety was for Tommy, whom we could not find when the time came to give him his supper. Bastin, however, seemed to remember having seen him following the Glittering Lady into the cave. This, of course, was possible, as certainly he had taken an enormous fancy to her and sat himself down as close to her as he could on every occasion. He even seemed to like the ancient Oro, and was not afraid to jump up and plant his dirty paws upon that terrific person's gorgeous robe. Moreover Oro liked him, for several times I observed him pat the dog upon the head; as I think I have said, the only human touch that I had perceived about him. So we gave up searching and calling in the hope that he was safe with our supernatural friends.
The next morning quite early the Lady Yva appeared alone; no, not alone, for with her came our lost Tommy looking extremely spry and well at ease. The faithless little wretch just greeted us in a casual fashion and then went and sat by Yva. In fact when the awkward Bastin managed to stumble over the end of her dress Tommy growled at him and showed his teeth. Moreover the dog was changed. He was blessed with a shiny black coat, but now this coat sparkled in the sunlight, like the Lady Yva's hair.
"The Glittering Lady is all very well, but I'm not sure that I care for a glittering dog. It doesn't look quite natural," said Bastin, contemplating him."Why does Tommy shine, Lady?" I asked. "Because I washed him in certain waters that we have, so that now he looks beautiful and smells sweet," she answered, laughing.
It was true, the dog did smell sweet, which I may add had not always been the case with him, especially when there were dead fish about. Also he appeared to have been fed, for he turned up his nose at the bits we had saved for his breakfast."He has drunk of the Life-water," explained Yva, "and will want no food for two days." Bickley pricked up his ears at this statement and looked incredulous.
"You do not believe, O Bickley," she said, studying him gravely. "Indeed, you believe nothing. You think my father and I tell you many lies. Bastin there, he believes all. Humphrey? He is not sure; he thinks to himself, I will wait and find out whether or no these funny people cheat me."
Bickley coloured and made some remark about things which were contrary to experience, also that Tommy in a general way was rather a greedy little dog.
"You, too, like to eat, Bickley" (this was true, he had an excellent appetite), "but when you have drunk the Life-water you will care much less.""I am glad to hear it," interrupted Bastin, "for Bickley wants a lot of cooking done, and I find it tedious." "You eat also, Lady," said Bickley.
"Yes, I eat sometimes because I like it, but I can go weeks and not eat, when I have the Life-water. Just now, after so long a sleep, I am hungry. Please give me some of that fruit. No, not the flesh, flesh I hate."
We handed it to her. She took two plantains, peeled and ate them with extraordinary grace. Indeed she reminded me, I do not know why, of some lovely butterfly drawing its food from a flower.While she ate she observed us closely; nothing seemed to escape the quick glances of those beautiful eyes. Presently she said:
"What, O Humphrey, is that with which you fasten your neckdress?" and she pointed to the little gold statue of Osiris that I used as a pin.
I told her that it was a statuette of a god named Osiris and very, very ancient, probably quite five thousand years old, a statement at which she smiled a little; also that it came from Egypt.
"Ah!" she answered, "is it so? I asked because we have figures that are very like to that one, and they also hold in their hands a staff surmounted by a loop. They are figures of Sleep's brother--Death.""So is this," I said. "Among the Egyptians Osiris was the god of Death."
She nodded and replied that doubtless the symbol had come down to them.
"One day you shall take me to see this land which you call so very old. Or I will take you, which would be quicker," she added.
We all bowed and said we should be delighted. Even Bastin appeared anxious to revisit Egypt in such company, though when he was there it seemed to bore him. But what she meant about taking us I could not guess. Nor had we time to ask her, for she went on, watching our faces as she spoke.
"The Lord Oro sends you a message, Strangers. He asks whether it is your wish to see where we dwell. He adds that you are not to come if you do not desire, or if you fear danger."We all answered that there was nothing we should like better, but Bastin added that he had already seen the tomb.
"Do you think, Bastin, that we live in a tomb because we slept there for a while, awaiting the advent of you wanderers at the appointed hour?"
"I don't see where else it could be, unless it is further down that cave," said Bastin. "The top of the mountain would not be convenient as a residence."
"It has not been convenient for many an age, for reasons that I will show you. Think now, before you come. You have naught to fear from us, and I believe that no harm will happen to you. But you will see many strange things that will anger Bickley because he cannot understand them, and perhaps will weary Bastin because his heart turns from what is wondrous and ancient. Only Humphrey will rejoice in them because the doors of his soul are open and he longs--what do you long for, Humphrey?""That which I have lost and fear I shall never find again," I answered boldly.
"I know that you have lost many things--last night, for instance, you lost Tommy, and when he slept with me he told me much about you and--others.""This is ridiculous," broke in Bastin. "Can a dog talk?"
"Everything can talk, if you understand its language, Bastin. But keep a good heart, Humphrey, for the bold seeker finds in the end. Oh! foolish man, do you not understand that all is yours if you have but the soul to conceive and the will to grasp? All, all, below, between, above! Even I know that, I who have so much to learn."
So she spoke and became suddenly magnificent. Her face which had been but that of a super-lovely woman, took on grandeur. Her bosom swelled; her presence radiated some subtle power, much as her hair radiated light.In a moment it was gone and she was smiling and jesting.
"Will you come, Strangers, where Tommy was not afraid to go, down to the Under-world? Or will you stay here in the sun? Perhaps you will do better to stay here in the sun, for the Under-world has terrors for weak hearts that were born but yesterday, and feeble feet may stumble in the dark."
"I shall take my electric torch," said Bastin with decision, "and I advise you fellows to do the same. I always hated cellars, and the catacombs at Rome are worse, though full of sacred interest."
Then we started, Tommy frisking on ahead in a most provoking way as though he were bored by a visit to a strange house and going home, and Yva gliding forward with a smile upon her face that was half mystic and half mischievous. We passed the remains of the machines, and Bickley asked her what they were.
"Carriages in which once we travelled through the skies, until we found a better way, and that the uninstructed used till the end," she answered carelessly, leaving me wondering what on earth she meant.
We came to the statue and the sepulchre beneath without trouble, for the glint of her hair, and I may add of Tommy's back, were quite sufficient to guide us through the gloom. The crystal coffins were still there, for Bastin flashed his torch and we saw them, but the boxes of radium had gone.
"Let that light die," she said to Bastin. "Humphrey, give me your right hand and give your left to Bickley. Let Bastin cling to him and fear nothing."We passed to the end of the tomb and stood against what appeared to be a rock wall, all close together, as she directed.
"Fear nothing," she said again, but next second I was never more full of fear in my life, for we were whirling downwards at a speed that would have made an American elevator attendant turn pale."Don't choke me," I heard Bickley say to Bastin, and the latter's murmured reply of: "I never could bear these moving staircases and tubelifts. They always make me feel sick."
I admit that for my part I also felt rather sick and clung tightly to the hand of the Glittering Lady. She, however, placed her other hand upon my shoulder, saying in a low voice:"Did I not tell you to have no fear?"
Then I felt comforted, for somehow I knew that it was not her desire to harm and much less to destroy me. Also Tommy was seated quite at his ease with his head resting against my leg, and his absence of alarm was reassuring. The only stoic of the party was Bickley. I have no doubt that he was quite as frightened as we were, but rather than show it he would have died.
"I presume this machinery is pneumatic," he began when suddenly and without shock, we arrived at the end of our journey. How far we had fallen I am sure I do not know, but I should judge from the awful speed at which we travelled, that it must have been several thousand feet, probably four or five.
"Everything seems steady now," remarked Bastin, "so I suppose this luggage lift has stopped. The odd thing is that I can't see anything of it. There ought to be a shaft, but we seem to be standing on a level floor."
"The odd thing is," said Bickley, "that we can see at all. Where the devil does the light come from thousands of feet underground?"
"I don't know," answered Bastin, "unless there is natural gas here, as I am told there is at a town called Medicine Hat in Canada.""Natural gas be blowed," said Bickley. "It is more like moonlight magnified ten times." So it was. The whole place was filled with a soft radiance, equal to that of the sun at noon, but gentler and without heat. "Where does it come from?" I whispered to Yva.
"Oh!" she replied, as I thought evasively. "It is the light of the Under-world which we know how to use. The earth is full of light, which is not wonderful, is it, seeing that its heart is fire? Now look about you."
I looked and leant on her harder than ever, since amazement made me weak. We were in some vast place whereof the roof seemed almost as far off as the sky at night. At least all that I could make out was a dim and distant arch which might have been one of cloud. For the rest, in every direction stretched vastness, illuminated far as the eye could reach by the soft light of which I have spoken, that is, probably for several miles. But this vastness was not empty. On the contrary it was occupied by a great city. There were streets much wider than Piccadilly, all bordered by houses, though these, I observed, were roofless, very fine houses, some of them, built of white stone or marble. There were roadways and pavements worn by the passage of feet. There, farther on, were market-places or public squares, and there, lastly, was a huge central enclosure one or two hundred acres in extent, which was filled with majestic buildings that looked like palaces, or town-halls; and, in the midst of them all, a vast temple with courts and a central dome. For here, notwithstanding the lack of necessity, its builders seemed to have adhered to the Over-world tradition, and had roofed their fane.
And now came the terror. All of this enormous city was dead. Had it stood upon the moon it could not have been more dead. None paced its streets; none looked from its window-places. None trafficked in its markets, none worshipped in its temple. Swept, garnished, lighted, practically untouched by the hand of Time, here where no rains fell and no winds blew, it was yet a howling wilderness. For what wilderness is there to equal that which once has been the busy haunt of men? Let those who have stood among the buried cities of Central Asia, or of Anarajapura in Ceylon, or even amid the ruins of Salamis on the coast of Cyprus, answer the question. But here was something infinitely more awful. A huge human haunt in the bowels of the earth utterly devoid of human beings, and yet as perfect as on the day when these ceased to be.
"I do not care for underground localities," remarked Bastin, his gruff voice echoing strangely in that terrible silence, "but it does seem a pity that all these fine buildings should be wasted. I suppose their inhabitants left them in search of fresh air.""Why did they leave them?" I asked of Yva.
"Because death took them," she answered solemnly. "Even those who live a thousand years die at last, and if they have no children, with them dies the race.""Then were you the last of your people?" I asked. "Inquire of my father," she replied, and led the way through the massive arch of a great building.
It led into a walled courtyard in the centre of which was a plain cupola of marble with a gate of some pale metal that looked like platinum mixed with gold. This gate stood open. Within it was the statue of a woman beautifully executed in white marble and set in a niche of some black stone. The figure was draped as though to conceal the shape, and the face was stern and majestic rather than beautiful. The eyes of the statue were cunningly made of some enamel which gave them a strange and lifelike appearance. They stared upwards as though looking away from the earth and its concerns. The arms were outstretched. In the right hand was a cup of black marble, in the left a similar cup of white marble. From each of these cups trickled a thin stream of sparkling water, which two streams met and mingled at a distance of about three feet beneath the cups. Then they fell into a metal basin which, although it must have been quite a foot thick, was cut right through by their constant impact, and apparently vanished down some pipe beneath. Out of this metal basin Tommy, who gambolled into the place ahead of us, began to drink in a greedy and demonstrative fashion."The Life-water?" I said, looking at our guide. She nodded and asked in her turn: "What is the statue and what does it signify, Humphrey?" I hesitated, but Bastin answered:
"Just a rather ugly woman who hid up her figure because it was bad. Probably she was a relation of the artist who wished to have her likeness done and sat for nothing."
"The goddess of Health," suggested Bickley. "Her proportions are perfect; a robust, a thoroughly normal woman."
I stared at the work and had not an idea. Then it flashed on me with such suddenness and certainity that I am convinced the answer to the riddle was passed to me from her and did not originate in my own mind.
"It seems quite easy," I said in a superior tone. "The figure symbolises Life and is draped because we only see the face of Life, the rest is hidden. The arms are bare because Life is real and active. One cup is black and one is white because Life brings both good and evil gifts; that is why the streams mingle, to be lost beneath in the darkness of death. The features are stern and even terrifying rather than lovely, because such is the aspect of Life. The eyes look upward and far away from present things, because the real life is not here.""Of course one may say anything," said Bastin, "but I don't understand all that."
"Imagination goes a long way," broke in Bickley, who was vexed that he had not thought of this interpretation himself. But Yva said:
"I begin to think that you are quite clever, Humphrey. I wonder whence the truth came to you, for such is the meaning of the figure and the cups. Had I told it to you myself, it could not have been better said," and she glanced at me out of the corners of her eyes. "Now, Strangers, will you drink? Once that gate was guarded, and only at a great price or as a great reward were certain of the Highest Blood given the freedom of this fountain which might touch no common lips. Indeed it was one of the causes of our last war, for all the world which was, desired this water which now is lapped by a stranger's hound."
"I suppose there is nothing medicinal in it?" said Bastin. "Once when I was very thirsty, I made a mistake and drank three tumblers of something of the sort in the dark, thinking that it was Apollinaris, and I don't want to do it again.""Just the sort of thing you would do," said Bickley. "But, Lady
Yva, what are the properties of this water?"
"It is very health-giving," she answered, "and if drunk continually, not less than once each thirty days, it wards off sickness, lessens hunger and postpones death for many, many years. That is why those of the High Blood endured so long and became the rulers of the world, and that, as I have said, is the greatest of the reasons why the peoples who dwelt in the ancient outer countries and never wished to die, made war upon them, to win this secret fountain. Have no fear, O Bastin, for see, I will pledge you in this water."
Then she lifted a strange-looking, shallow, metal cup whereof the handles were formed of twisted serpents, that lay in the basin, filled it from the trickling stream, bowed to us and drank. But as she drank I noted with a thrill of joy that her eyes were fixed on mine as though it were me she pledged and me alone. Again she filled the cup with the sparkling water, for it did sparkle, like that French liqueur in which are mingled little flakes of gold, and handed it to me.
I bowed to her and drank. I suppose the fluid was water, but to me it tasted more like strong champagne, dashed with Chateau Yquem. It was delicious. More, its effects were distinctly
peculiar. Something quick and subtle ran through my veins; something that for a few moments seemed to burn away the obscureness which blurs our thought. I began to understand several problems that had puzzled me, and then lost their explanations in the midst of light, inner light, I mean.
Moreover, of a sudden it seemed to me as though a window had been opened in the heart of that Glittering Lady who stood beside me. At least I knew that it was full of wonderful knowledge,
wonderful memories and wonderful hopes, and that in the latter two of these I had some part; what part I could not tell. Also I knew that my heart was open to her and that she saw in it something which caused her to marvel and to sigh.
In a few seconds, thirty perhaps, all this was gone. Nothing remained except that I felt extremely strong and well, happier, too, than I had been for years. Mutely I asked her for more of the water, but she shook her head and, taking the cup from me, filled it again and gave it to Bickley, who drank. He flushed, seemed to lose the self-control which was his very strong characteristic, and said in a rather thick voice:"Curious! but I do not think at this moment there is any operation that has ever been attempted which I could not tackle single-handed and with success." Then he was silent, and Bastin's turn came. He drank rather noisily, after his fashion, and began:
"My dear young lady, I think the time has come when I should expound to you--" Here he broke off and commenced singing very badly, for his voice was somewhat raucous:From Greenland's icy mountains, From India's coral strand, Where Afric's sunny fountains Roll down their golden sand. Ceasing from melody, he added:
"I determined that I would drink nothing intoxicating while I was on this island that I might be a shining light in a dark place, and now I fear that quite unwittingly I have broken what I look upon as a promise."Then he, too, grew silent. "Come," said Yva, "my father, the Lord Oro, awaits you."
We crossed the court of the Water of Life and mounted steps that led to a wide and impressive portico, Tommy frisking ahead of us in a most excited way for a dog of his experience. Evidently the water had produced its effect upon him as well as upon his masters. This portico was in a solemn style of architecture which I cannot describe, because it differed from any other that I know. It was not Egyptian and not Greek, although its solidity reminded me of the former, and the beauty and grace of some of the columns, of the latter. The profuseness and rather grotesque character of the carvings suggested the ruins of Mexico and Yucatan, and the enormous size of the blocks of stone, those of Peru and Baalbec. In short, all the known forms of ancient architecture might have found their inspiration here, and the general effect was tremendous."The palace of the King," said Yva, "whereof we approach the great hall."
We entered through mighty metal doors, one of which stood ajar, into a vestibule which from certain indications I gathered had once been a guard, or perhaps an assembly-room. It was about forty feet deep by a hundred wide. Thence she led us through a smaller door into the hall itself. It was a vast place without columns, for there was no roof to support. The walls of marble or limestone were sculptured like those of Egyptian temples, apparently with battle scenes, though of this I am not sure for I did not go near to them. Except for a broad avenue along the middle, up which we walked, the area was filled with marble benches that would, I presume, have accommodated several thousand people. But they were empty--empty, and oh! the loneliness of it all.
Far away at the head of the hall was a dais enclosed, and, as it were, roofed in by a towering structure that mingled grace and majesty to a wonderful degree. It was modelled on the pattern of a huge shell. The base of the shell was the platform; behind were the ribs, and above, the overhanging lip of the shell. On this platform was a throne of silvery metal. It was supported on the arched coils of snakes, whereof the tails formed the back and the heads the arms of the throne.
On this throne, arrayed in gorgeous robes, sat the Lord Oro, his white beard flowing over them, and a jewelled cap upon his head. In front of him was a low table on which lay graven sheets of metal, and among them a large ball of crystal.
There he sat, solemn and silent in the midst of this awful solitude, looking in very truth like a god, as we conceive such a being to appear. Small as he was in that huge expanse of buildings, he seemed yet to dominate it, in a sense to fill the emptiness which was accentuated by his presence. I know that the sight of him filled me with true fear which it had never done in the light of day, not even when he arose from his crystal coffin. Now for the first time I felt as though I were really in the presence of a Being Supernatural. Doubtless the surroundings heightened this impression. What were these mighty edifices in the bowels of the world? Whence came this wondrous, all-pervading and translucent light, whereof we could see no origin? Whither had vanished those who had reared and inhabited them? How did it happen that of them all, this man, if he were a man; and this lovely woman at my side, who, if I might trust my senses and instincts, was certainly a woman, alone survived of their departed multitudes?
The thing was crushing. I looked at Bickley for encouragement, but got none, for he only shook his head. Even Bastin, now that the first effects of the Life-water had departed, seemed overwhelmed, and muttered something about the halls of Hades.
Only the little dog Tommy remained quite cheerful. He trotted down the hall, jumped on to the dais and sat himself comfortably at the feet of its occupant."I greet you," Oro said in his slow, resonant voice. "Daughter, lead these strangers to me; I would speak with them." Chapter XV Oro in His House
We climbed on to the dais by some marble steps, and sat ourselves down in four curious chairs of metal that were more or less copied from that which served Oro as a throne; at least the arms ended in graven heads of snakes. These chairs were so comfortable that I concluded the seats were fixed on springs, also we noticed that they were beautifully polished.
"I wonder how they keep everything so clean," said Bastin as we mounted the dais. "In this big place it must take a lot of housemaids, though I don't see any. But perhaps there is no dust here."
I shrugged my shoulders while we seated ourselves, the Lady Yva and I on Oro's right, Bickley and Bastin on his left, as he indicated by pointing with his finger."What say you of this city?" Oro asked after a while of me. "We do not know what to say," I replied. "It amazes us. In our world there is nothing like to it." "Perchance there will be in the future when the nations grow more skilled in the arts of war," said Oro darkly.
"Be pleased, Lord Oro," I went on, "if it is your will, to tell us why the people who built this place chose to live in the bowels of the earth instead of upon its surface."