The Lost Continent: "Splendidly colourful, imaginative and gloriously entertaining." ~ Lin Carter
Atlantida: “Well imagined, with much scholalry detail on the geography of French north Africa and the classical literature on Atlantis. The narrative is fast-moving and hold's one's interest well. All in all, perhaps the best of the older Atlantis fictions..” ~Everett Franklin Bleiler, Science-fiction, the Early Years
The Toll of the Sea: “One of the better lost races of the period, with well-realized moments, a convincing culture, reasonable characters, and competent writing.” ~Everett Franklin Bleiler, Science-fiction, the Early Years
Queen of Atlantis: Much the best of the Atkins adventures.” ~Everett Franklin Bleiler, Science-fiction, the Early Years
When the World Shook:
“A really splendid romance, rich in color, fresh and gorgeous in its imaginative qualities and power, and needless to add, absorbingly interesting...” ~The New York Times (1919)
There had been rain two days before, and as there was still a bit of stream trickling along at the bottom of the barranca, we went down there and had a wash, and brushed our teeth. Greatest luxury imaginable, a toothbrush, on this sort of expedition.
“Now,” said Coppinger when we had emptied our pockets, “there’s precious little grub left, and it’s none the better for being carried in a local Spanish newspaper.”
“Yours is mostly tobacco ashes.”
“It’ll get worse if we leave it. We’ve a lot more bad scrambling ahead of us.”
That was obvious. So we sat down beside the stream there at the bottom of the barranca, and ate up all of what was left. It was a ten-mile tramp to the fonda at Santa Brigida, where we had set down our traps; and as Coppinger wanted to take a lot more photographs and measurements before we left this particular group of caves, it was likely we should be pretty sharp set before we got our next meal, and our next taste of the patron’s splendid old country wine. My faith! If only they knew down in the English hotels in Las Palmas what magnificent wines one could get—with diplomacy—up in some of the mountain villages, the old vintage would become a thing of the past in a week.
Now to tell the truth, the two mummies he had gathered already quite satisfied my small ambition. The goatskins in which they were sewn up were as brittle as paper, and the poor old things themselves gave out dust like a puffball whenever they were touched. But you know what Coppinger is. He thought he’d come upon traces of an old Guanche university, or sacred college, or something of that kind, like the one there is on the other side of the island, and he wouldn’t be satisfied till he’d ransacked every cave in the whole face of the cliff. He’d plenty of stuff left for the flashlight thing, and twenty-eight more films in his kodak, and said we might as well get through with the job then as make a return journey all on purpose. So he took the crowbar, and I shouldered the rope, and away we went up to the ridge of the cliff, where we had got such a baking from the sun the day before.
Of course these caves were not easy to come at, or else they would have been raided years before. Coppinger, who on principle makes out he knows all about these things, says that in the old Guanche days they had ladders of goatskin rope which they could pull up when they were at home, and so keep out undesirable callers; and as no other plan occurs to me, perhaps he may be right. Anyway the mouths of the caves were in a more or less level row thirty feet below the ridge of the cliff, and fifty feet above the bottom; and Spanish curiosity doesn’t go in much where it cannot walk.
Now laddering such caves from below would have been cumbersome, but a light knotted rope is easily carried, and though it would have been hard to climb up this, our plan was to descend on each cave mouth from above, and then slip down to the foot of the cliffs, and start again ab initio for the next.
Coppinger is plucky enough, and he has a good head on a height, but there is no getting over the fact that he is portly and nearer fifty than forty-five. So you can see he must have been pretty keen. Of course I went first each time, and got into the cave mouth, and did what I could to help him in; but when you have to walk down a vertical cliff face fly-fashion, with only a thin bootlace of a rope for support, it is not much real help the man below can give, except offer you his best wishes.
I wanted to save him as much as I could, and as the first three caves I climbed to were small and empty, seeming to be merely store-places, I asked him to take them for granted, and save himself the rest. But he insisted on clambering down to each one in person, and as he decided that one of my granaries was a prison, and another a pot-making factory, and another a schoolroom for young priests, he naturally said he hadn’t much reliance on my judgment, and would have to go through the whole lot himself. You know what these thorough-going archaeologists are for imagination.
But as the day went on, and the sun rose higher, Coppinger began clearly to have had enough of it, though he was very game, and insisted on going on much longer than was safe. I must say I didn’t like it. You see the drop was seldom less than eighty feet from the top of the cliffs. However, at last he was forced to give it up. I suggested marching off to Santa Brigida forthwith, but he wouldn’t do that. There were three more cave-openings to be looked into, and if I wouldn’t do them for him, he would have to make another effort to get there himself. He tried to make out he was conferring a very great favour on me by offering to take a report solely from my untrained observation, but I flatly refused to look at it in that light. I was pretty tired also; I was soaked with perspiration from the heat; my head ached from the violence of the sun; and my hands were cut raw with the rope.
Coppinger might be tired, but he was still enthusiastic. He tried to make me enthusiastic also. “Look here,” he said, “there’s no knowing what you may find up there, and if you do lay hands on anything, remember it’s your own. I shall have no claim whatever.”
“Very kind of you, but I’ve got no use for any more mummies done up in goatskin bags.”
“Bah! That’s not a burial cave up there. Don’t you know the difference yet in the openings? Now, be a good fellow. It doesn’t follow that, because we have drawn all the rest blank, you won’t stumble across a good find for yourself up there.”
“Oh, very well,” I said, as he seemed so set on it; and away I stumbled over the fallen rocks, and along the ledge, and then scrambled up by that fissure in the cliff which saved us the two-mile round which we had had to take at first. I wrenched out the crowbar, and jammed it down in a new place, and then away I went over the side, with hands smarting worse at every new grip of the rope. It was an awkward job swinging into the cave mouth because the rock above overhung, or else (what came to the same thing) it had broken away below; but I managed it somehow, although I landed with an awkward thump on my back, and at the same time I didn’t let go the rope. It wouldn’t do to have lost the rope then: Coppinger couldn’t have flicked it into me from where he was below.
Now from the first glance I could see that this cave was of different structure to the others. They were for the most part mere dens, rounded out anyhow; this had been faced up with cutting tools, so that all the angles were clean, and the sides smooth and flat. The walls inclined inwards to the roof, reminding me of an architecture I had seen before but could not recollect where, and moreover there were several rooms connected up with passages. I was pleased to find that the other cave-openings which Coppinger wanted me to explore were merely the windows or the doorways of two of these other rooms.
Of inscriptions or markings on the walls there was not a trace, though I looked carefully, and except for bats the place was entirely bare. I lit a cigarette and smoked it through—Coppinger always thinks one is slurring over work if it is got through too quickly—and then I went to the entrance where the rope was, and leaned out, and shouted down my news.
He turned up a very anxious face. “Have you searched it thoroughly?” he bawled back.
“Of course I have. What do you think I’ve been doing all this time?”
“No, don’t come down yet. Wait a minute. I say, old man, do wait a minute. I’m making fast the kodak and the flashlight apparatus on the end of the rope. Pull them up, and just make me half a dozen exposures, there’s a good fellow.”
“Oh, all right,” I said, and hauled the things up, and got them inside. The photographs would be absolutely dull and uninteresting, but that wouldn’t matter to Coppinger. He rather preferred them that way. One has to be careful about halation in photographing these dark interiors, but there was a sort of ledge like a seat by the side of each doorway, and so I lodged the camera on that to get a steady stand, and snapped off the flashlight from behind and above.
I got pictures of four of the chambers this way, and then came to one where the ledge was higher and wider. I put down the camera, wedged it level with scraps of stone, and then sat down myself to recharge the flashlight machine. But the moment my weight got on that ledge, there was a sharp crackle, and down I went half a dozen inches.
Of course I was up again pretty sharply, and snapped up the kodak just as it was going to slide off to the ground. I will confess, too, I was feeling pleased. Here at any rate was a Guanche cupboard of sorts, and as they had taken the trouble to hermetically seal it with cement, the odds were that it had something inside worth hiding. At first there was nothing to be seen but a lot of dust and rubble, so I lit a bit of candle and cleared this away. Presently, however, I began to find that I was shelling out something that was not cement. It chipped away, in regular layers, and when I took it to the daylight I found that each layer was made up of two parts. One side was shiny stuff that looked like talc, and on this was smeared a coating of dark toffee-coloured material, that might have been wax. The toffee-coloured surface was worked over with some kind of pattern.
Now I do not profess to any knowledge on these matters, and as a consequence took what Coppinger had told me about Guanche habits and acquirements as more or less true. For instance, he had repeatedly impressed upon me that this old people could not write, and having this in my memory, I did not guess that the patterns scribed through the wax were letters in some obsolete character, which, if left to myself, probably I should have done. But still at the same time I came to the conclusion that the stuff was worth looting, and so set to work quarrying it out with the heel of my boot and a pocket-knife.
The sheets were all more or less stuck together, and so I did not go in for separating them farther. They fitted exactly to the cavity in which they were stored, but by smashing down its front I was able to get at the foot of them, and then I hacked away through the bottom layers with the knife till I got the bulk out in one solid piece. It measured some twenty inches by fifteen, by fifteen, but it was not so heavy as it looked, and when I had taken the remaining photographs, I lowered it down to Coppinger on the end of the rope.
There was nothing more to do in the caves then, so I went down myself next. The lump of sheets was on the ground, and Coppinger was on all fours beside it. He was pretty nearly mad with excitement.
“What is it?” I asked him.
“I don’t know yet. But it is the most valuable find ever made in the Canary Islands, and it’s yours, you unappreciative beggar; at least what there is left of it. Oh, man, man, you’ve smashed up the beginning, and you’ve smashed up the end of some history that is probably priceless. It’s my own fault. I ought to have known better than set an untrained man to do important exploring work.”
“I should say it’s your fault if anything’s gone wrong. You said there was no such thing as writing known to these ancient Canarios, and I took your word for it. For anything I knew the stuff might have been something to eat.”
“It isn’t Guanche work at all,” said he testily. “You ought to have known that from the talc. Great heavens, man, have you no eyes? Haven’t you seen the general formation of the island? Don’t you know there’s no talc here?”
“I’m no geologist. Is this imported literature then?”
“Of course. It’s Egyptian: that’s obvious at a glance. Though how it’s got here I can’t tell yet. It isn’t stuff you can read off like a newspaper. The character’s a variant on any of those that have been discovered so far. And as for this waxy stuff spread over the talc, it’s unique. It’s some sort of a mineral, I think: perhaps asphalt. It doesn’t scratch up like animal wax. I’ll analyse that later. Why they once invented it, and then let such a splendid notion drop out of use, is just a marvel. I could stay gloating over this all day.”
“Well,” I said, “if it’s all the same for you, I’d rather gloat over a meal. It’s a good ten miles hard going to the fonda, and I’m as hungry as a hawk already. Look here, do you know it is four o’clock already? It takes longer than you think climbing down to each of these caves, and then getting up again for the next.”
Coppinger spread his coat on the ground, and wrapped the lump of sheets with tender care, but would not allow it to be tied with a rope for fear of breaking more of the edges. He insisted on carrying it himself too, and did so for the larger part of the way to Santa Brigida, and it was only when he was within an ace of dropping himself with sheer tiredness that he condescended to let me take my turn. He was tolerably ungracious about it too. “I suppose you may as well carry the stuff,” he snapped, “seeing that after all it’s your own.”
Personally, when we got to the fonda, I had as good a dinner as was procurable, and a bottle of that old Canary wine, and turned into bed after a final pipe. Coppinger dined also, but I have reason to believe he did not sleep much. At any rate I found him still poring over the find next morning, and looking very heavy-eyed, but brimming with enthusiasm.
“Do you know,” he said, “that you’ve blundered upon the most valuable historical manuscript that the modern world has ever yet seen? Of course, with your clumsy way of getting it out, you’ve done an infinity of damage. For instance, those top sheets you shelled away and spoiled, contained probably an absolutely unique account of the ancient civilisation of Yucatan.”
“Where’s that, anyway?”
“In the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. It’s all ruins to-day, but once it was a very prosperous colony of the Atlanteans.”
“Never heard of them. Oh yes, I have though. They were the people Herodotus wrote about, didn’t he? But I thought they were mythical.”
“They were very real, and so was Atlantis, the continent where they lived, which lay just north of the Canaries here.”
“What’s that crocodile sort of thing with wings drawn in the margin?”
“Some sort of beast that lived in those bygone days. The pages are full of them. That’s a cave-tiger. And that’s some sort of colossal bat. Thank goodness he had the sense to illustrate fully, the man who wrote this, or we should never have been able to reconstruct the tale, or at any rate we could not have understood half of it. Whole species have died out since this was written, just as a whole continent has been swept away and three civilisations quenched. The worst of it is, it was written by a highly-educated man who somewhat naturally writes a very bad fist. I’ve hammered at it all the night through, and have only managed to make out a few sentences here and there”—he rubbed his hands appreciatively. “It will take me a year’s hard work to translate this properly.”
“Every man to his taste. I’m afraid my interest in the thing wouldn’t last as long as that. But how did it get there? Did your ancient Egyptian come to Grand Canary for the good of his lungs, and write it because he felt dull up in that cave?”
“I made a mistake there. The author was not an Egyptian. It was the similarity of the inscribed character which misled me. The book was written by one Deucalion, who seems to have been a priest or general—or perhaps both—and he was an Atlantean. How it got there, I don’t know yet. Probably that was told in the last few pages, which a certain vandal smashed up with his pocketknife, in getting them away from the place where they were stowed.”
“That’s right, abuse me. Deucalion you say? There was a Deucalion in the Greek mythology. He was one of the two who escaped from the Flood: their Noah, in fact.”
“The swamping of the continent of Atlantis might very well correspond to the Flood.”
“Is there a Pyrrha then? She was Deucalion’s wife.”
“I haven’t come across her yet. But there’s a Phorenice, who may be the same. She seems to have been the reigning Empress, as far as I can make out at present.”
I looked with interest at illustrations in the margin. They were quite understandable, although the perspective was all wrong. “Weird beasts they seem to have had knocking about the country in those days. Whacking big size too, if one may judge. By Jove, that’ll be a cave-tiger trying to puff down a mammoth. I shouldn’t care to have lived in those days.”
“Probably they had some way of fighting the creatures. However, that will show itself as I get along with the translation.” He looked at his watch—“I suppose I ought to be ashamed of myself, but I haven’t been to bed. Are you going out?”
“I shall drive back to Las Palmas. I promised a man to have a round at golf this afternoon.”
“Very well, see you at dinner. I hope they’ve sent back my dress shirts from the wash. O, lord! I am sleepy.”
I left him going up to bed, and went outside and ordered a carriage to take me down, and there I may say we parted for a considerable time. A cable was waiting for me in the hotel at Las Palmas to go home for business forthwith, and there was a Liverpool boat in the harbour which I just managed to catch as she was steaming out. It was a close thing, and the boatmen made a small fortune out of my hurry.
Now Coppinger was only an hotel acquaintance, and as I was up to the eyes in work when I got back to England, I’m afraid I didn’t think very much more about him at the time. One doesn’t with people one just meets casually abroad like that. And it must have been at least a year later that I saw by a paragraph in one of the papers, that he had given the lump of sheets to the British Museum, and that the estimated worth of them was ten thousand pounds at the lowest valuation.
Well, this was a bit of revelation, and as he had so repeatedly impressed on me that the things were mine by right of discovery, I wrote rather a pointed note to him mentioning that he seemed to have been making rather free with my property. Promptly came back a stilted letter beginning, “Doctor Coppinger regrets” and so on, and with it the English translation of the wax-upon-talc MSS. He “quite admitted” my claim, and “trusted that the profits of publication would be a sufficient reimbursement for any damage received.”
Now I had no idea that he would take me unpleasantly like this, and wrote back a pretty warm reply to that effect; but the only answer I got to this was through a firm of solicitors, who stated that all further communications with Dr. Coppinger must be made through them.
I will say here publicly that I regret the line he has taken over the matter; but as the affair has gone so far, I am disposed to follow out his proposition. Accordingly the old history is here printed; the credit (and the responsibility) of the translation rests with Dr. Coppinger; and whatever revenue accrues from readers, goes to the finder of the original talc-upon-wax sheets, myself.
If there is a further alteration in this arrangement, it will be announced publicly at a later date. But at present this appears to be most unlikely.