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)
Starrett came to the point at once. Graydon had heard the legend of the treasure train bringing to Pizarro the ransom of the Inca Atahualpa? And that its leaders, learning of the murder of their monarch by the butcher-boy Conquistador, had turned aside and hidden the treasure somewhere in the Andean wilderness?
Graydon had heard it, hundreds of times; had even considered hunting for it. He said so. Starrett nodded.
“I know where it is,” he said.
In the end Starrett convinced him; convinced him, at least, that he had something worth looking into.
Graydon rather liked the big man. There was a bluff directness that made him overlook the hint of cruelty in eyes and jaw. There were two others with him, Starrett said, both old companions. Graydon asked why they had picked him out. Starrett bluntly told him—because they knew he could afford to pay the expenses of the expedition. They would all share equally in the treasure. If they didn’t find it, Graydon was a first-class mining engineer, and the region they were going into was rich in minerals. He was practically sure of making some valuable discovery on which they could cash in.
Graydon considered. There were no calls upon him. He had just passed his thirty-fourth birthday, and since he had been graduated from the Harvard School of Mines eleven years ago he had never had a real holiday. He could well afford the cost. There would be some excitement, if nothing else.
After he had looked over Starrett’s two comrades—Soames, a lanky, saturnine, hard-bitten Yankee, and Dancret, a cynical, amusing little Frenchman—they had drawn up an agreement and he had signed it.
They went down by rail to Cerro de Pasco for their outfit, that being the town of any size closest to where their trek into the wilderness would begin. A week later with eight burros and six arrieros, or packmen, they were within the welter of peaks through which, Starrett’s map indicated, lay their road.
It had been the map which had persuaded Graydon. It was no parchment, but a sheet of thin gold quite as flexible. Starrett drew it out of a small golden tube of ancient workmanship, and unrolled it. Graydon examined it and was unable to see any map upon it—or anything else. Starrett held it at a peculiar angle—and the markings upon it became plain.
It was a beautiful piece of cartography. It was, in fact, less a map than a picture. Here and there were curious symbols which Starrett said were signs cut upon the rocks along the way; guiding marks for those of the old race who would set forth to recover the treasure when the Spaniards had been swept from the land.
Whether it was clue to Atahualpa’s ransom hoard or to something else—Graydon did not know. Starrett said it was. But Graydon did not believe his story of how the golden sheet had come into his possession. Nevertheless, there had been purpose in the making of the map, and stranger purpose in the cunning with which the markings had been concealed. Something interesting lay at the end of that trail.
They found the signs cut in the rocks exactly as the sheet of gold had indicated. Gay, spirits high with anticipation, three of them spending in advance their share of the booty, they followed the symbols. Steadily they were led into the uncharted wilderness.
At last the arrieros began to murmur. They were approaching, they said, a region that was accursed, the Cordillera de Carabaya, where only demons dwelt. Promises of more money, threats, pleadings, took them along a little further. One morning the four awakened to find the arrieros gone, and with them half the burros and the major portion of their supplies.
They pressed on. Then the signs failed them. Either they had lost the trail, or the map which had led them truthfully so far had lied at the last.
The country into which they had penetrated was a curiously lonely one. There had been no sign of Indians since more than a fortnight before, when they had stopped at a Quicha village and Starrett had gotten mad drunk on the fiery spirit the Quichas distil. Food was hard to find. There were few animals and fewer birds.
Worst of all was the change which had come over Graydon’s companions. As high as they had been lifted by their certitude of success, just so deep were they in depression. Starrett kept himself at a steady level of drunkenness, alternately quarrelsome and noisy, or brooding in sullen rage.
Dancret was silent and irritable. Soames seemed to have come to the conclusion that Starrett, Graydon and Dancret had combined against him; that they had either deliberately missed the trail or had erased the signs. Only when the pair of them joined Starrett and drank with him the Quicha brew with which they had laden one of the burros did the three relax. At such times Graydon had the uneasy feeling that all were holding the failure against him, and that his life might be hanging on a thin thread.
The day that Graydon’s great adventure really began, he was on his way back to the camp. He had been hunting since morning. Dancret and Soames had gone off together on another desperate search for the missing marks.
Cut off in mid-flight, the girl’s cry came to him as the answer to all his apprehensions; materialization of the menace toward which his vague fears had been groping since he had left Starrett alone at the camp, hours ago. He had sensed some culminating misfortune close—and here it was! He broke into a run, stumbling up the slope to the group of grey-green algarrobas, where the tent was pitched.
He crashed through the thick undergrowth to the clearing.
Why didn’t the girl cry out again, he wondered. A chuckle reached him, thick, satyr-toned.
Half crouching, Starrett was holding the girl bow fashion over one knee. A thick arm was clenched about her neck, the fingers clutching her mouth brutally, silencing her; his right hand fettered her wrists; her knees were caught in the vice of his bent right leg.
Graydon caught him by the hair, and locked his arm under his chin. He drew his head sharply back.
“Drop her!” he ordered.
Half paralyzed, Starrett relaxed—he writhed, then twisted to his feet.
“What the hell are you butting in for?”
His hand struck down toward his pistol. Graydon’s fist caught him on the point of the jaw. The half-drawn gun slipped to the ground and Starrett toppled over.
The girl leaped up, and away.
Graydon did not look after her. She had gone, no doubt, to bring down upon them her people, some tribe of the fierce Aymara whom even the Incas of old had never quite conquered. And who would avenge her in ways that Graydon did not like to visualize.
He bent over Starrett. Between the blow and the drink he would probably be out for some time. Graydon picked up the pistol. He wished that Dancret and Soames would get back soon to camp. The three of them could put up a good fight at any rate... might even have a chance to escape... but they would have to get back quickly... the girl would soon return with her avengers... was probably at that moment telling them of her wrongs. He turned—
She stood there, looking at him.
Drinking in her loveliness, Graydon forgot the man at his feet—forgot all else.
Her skin was palest ivory. It gleamed through the rents of the soft amber fabric, like thickest silk, which swathed her. Her eyes were oval, a little tilted, Egyptian in the wide midnight of her pupils. Her nose was small and straight; her brows level and black, almost meeting. Her hair was cloudy, jet, misty and shadowed. A narrow fillet of gold bound her low broad forehead. In it was entwined a sable and silver feather of the caraquenque—that bird whose plumage in lost centuries was sacred to the princesses of the Incas alone.
Above her elbows were golden bracelets, reaching almost to the slender shoulders. Her little high-arched feet were shod with high buskins of deerskin. She was lithe and slender as the Willow Maid who waits on Kwannon when she passes through the World of Trees pouring into them new fire of green life.
She was no Indian... nor daughter of ancient Incas... nor was she Spanish... she was of no race that he knew.
There were bruises on her cheeks—the marks of Starrett’s fingers. Her long, slim hands touched them. She spoke—in the Aymara tongue.
“Is he dead?”
“No,” Graydon answered.
In the depths of her eyes a small, hot flame flared; he could have sworn it was of gladness.
“That is well! I would not have him die—” her voice became meditative—“at least—not this way.”
Starrett groaned. The girl again touched the bruises on her cheek.
“He is very strong,” she murmured.
Graydon thought there was admiration in her whisper; wondered whether all her beauty was, after all, only a mask for primitive woman worshiping brute strength.
“Who are you?” he asked.
She looked at him for a long, long moment.
“I am—Suarra,” she answered, at last.
“But where do you come from? What are you?” he asked again. She did not choose to answer these questions.
“Is he your enemy?”
“No,” he said. “We travel together.”
“Then why—” she pointed again to the outstretched figure—“why did you do this to him? Why did you not let him have his way with me?”
Graydon flushed. The question, with all its subtle implications, cut.
“What do you think I am?” he answered, hotly. “No man lets a thing like that go on!”
She looked at him, curiously. Her face softened. She took a step closer to him. She touched once more the bruises on her cheek.
“Do you not wonder,” she said, “now do you not wonder why I do not call my people to deal him the punishment he has earned?”
“I do wonder,” Graydon’s perplexity was frank. “I wonder indeed. Why do you not call them—if they are close enough to hear?”
“And what would you do were they to come?”
“I would not let them have him—alive,” he answered. “Nor me.”
“Perhaps,” she said, slowly—“perhaps that is why I do not call.”
Suddenly she smiled upon him. He took a swift step toward her. She thrust out a warning hand.
“I am—Suarra,” she said. “And I am—Death!”
A chill passed through Graydon. Again he realized the alien beauty of her. Could there be truth in these legends of the haunted Cordillera? He had never doubted that there was something real behind the terror of the Indians, the desertion of the arrieros. Was she one of its spirits, one of its—demons? For an instant the fantasy seemed no fantasy. Then reason returned. This girl a demon! He laughed.
“Do not laugh,” she said. “The death I mean is not such as you who live beyond the high rim of our hidden land know. Your body may live on—yet it is death and more than death, since it is changed in—dreadful—ways. And that which tenants your body, that which speaks through your lips, is changed—in ways more dreadful still!... I would not have that death come to you.”
Strange as were her words, Graydon hardly heard them; certainly did not then realize their meaning, lost as he was in wonder at her beauty.
“How you came by the Messengers, I do not know. How you could have passed unseen by them, I cannot understand. Nor how you came so far into this forbidden land. Tell me—why came you here at all?”
“We came from afar,” he told her, “on the track of a great treasure of gold and gems; the treasure of Atahualpa, the Inca. There were certain signs that led us. We lost them. We found that we, too, were lost. And we wandered here.”
“Of Atahualpa or of Incas,” the girl said, “I know nothing. Whoever they were, they could not have come to this place. And their treasure, no matter how great, would have meant nothing to us—to us of Yu-Atlanchi, where treasures are as rocks in the bed of a stream. A grain of sand it would have been, among many—” she paused, then went on, perplexedly, as though voicing her thoughts to herself—“But it is why the Messengers did not see them that I cannot understand... the Mother must know of this.... I must go quickly to the Mother....”
“The Mother?” asked Graydon.
“The Snake Mother!” her gaze returned to him; she touched a bracelet on her right wrist. Graydon, drawing close, saw that this bracelet held a disk on which was carved in bas-relief a serpent with a woman’s head and woman’s breast and arms. It lay coiled upon what appeared to be a great bowl held high on the paws of four beasts. The shapes of these creatures did not at once register upon his consciousness, so absorbed was he in his study of that coiled figure. He stared close—and closer. And now he realized that the head reared upon the coils was not really that of a woman. No! It was reptilian.
Snake-like—yet so strongly had the artist feminized it, so great was the suggestion of womanhood modelled into every line of it, that constantly one saw it as woman, forgetting all that was of the serpent.
The eyes were of some intensely glittering purple stone. Graydon felt that those eyes were alive—that far, far away some living thing was looking at him through them. That they were, in fact, prolongations of some one’s—some thing’s—vision.
The girl touched one of the beasts that held up the bowl.
“The Xinli,” she said.
Graydon’s bewilderment increased. He knew what those animals were. Knowing, he also knew that he looked upon the incredible.
They were dinosaurs! The monstrous saurians that ruled earth millions upon millions of years ago, and, but for whose extinction, so he had been taught, man could never have developed.
Who in this Andean wilderness could know or could have known the dinosaurs? Who here could have carved the monsters with such life-like detail as these possessed? Why, it was only yesterday that science had learned what really were their huge bones, buried so long that the rocks had moulded themselves around them in adamantine matrix. And laboriously, with every modern resource, haltingly and laboriously, science had set those bones together as a perplexed child would a picture puzzle, and put forth what it believed to be reconstructions of these long-vanished chimerae of earth’s nightmare youth.
Yet here, far from all science it must surely be, someone had modelled those same monsters of a woman’s bracelet. Why then—it followed that whoever had done this must have had before him the living forms from which to work. Or, if not, had copies of those forms set down by ancient men who had seen them.
And either or both of these things were incredible.
Who were the people to whom she belonged? There had been a name—Yu-Atlanchi.
“Suarra,” he said, “where is Yu-Atlanchi? Is it this place?”
“This?” She laughed. “No! Yu-Atlanchi is the Ancient Land. The Hidden Land where the six Lords and the Lords of Lords once ruled. And where now rules only the Snake Mother and—another. This place Yu-Atlanchi!” Again she laughed. “Now and then I hunt here with—the—” she hesitated, looking at him oddly—“So it was that he who lies there caught me. I was hunting. I had slipped away from my followers, for sometimes it pleases me to hunt alone. I came through these trees and saw your tetuane, your lodge. I came face to face with—him. And I was amazed—too amazed to strike with one of these.” She pointed to a low knoll a few feet away. “Before I could conquer that amaze he had caught me. Then you came.”
Graydon looked where she had pointed. Upon the ground lay three slender, shining spears. Their slim shafts were of gold; the arrow-shaped heads of two of them were of fine opal. The third—the third was a single emerald, translucent and flawless, all of six inches long and three at its widest, ground to keenest point and cutting edge.
There it lay, a priceless jewel tipping a spear of gold—and a swift panic shook Graydon. He had forgotten Soames and Dancret. Suppose they should return while this girl was there. This girl with her ornaments of gold, her gem-tipped spears—and her beauty!
“Suarra,” he said, “you must go, and go quickly. This man and I are not all. There are two more, and even now they may be close. Take your spears, and go quickly. Else I may not be able to save you.”
“You think I am—”
“I tell you to go,” he interrupted. “Whoever you are, whatever you are, go now and keep away from this place. Tomorrow I will try to lead them away. If you have people to fight for you—well, let them come and fight if you so desire. But take your spears and go.”
She crossed to the little knoll and picked up the spears. She held one out to him, the one that bore the emerald point.
“This,” she said, “to remember—Suarra.”
“No,” he thrust it back. “Go!”
If the others saw that jewel, never, he knew, would he be able to start them on the back trail—if they could find it. Starrett had seen it, of course, but he might be able to convince them that Starrett’s story was only a drunken dream.
The girl studied him—a quickened interest in her eyes. She slipped the bracelets from her arms, held them out to him with the three spears.
“Will you take these—and leave your comrades?” she asked. “Here are gold and gems. They are treasure. They are what you have been seeking. Take them. Take them and go, leaving that man here. Consent—and I will show you a way out of this forbidden land.”
Graydon hesitated. The emerald alone was worth a fortune. What loyalty did he owe the three, after all? And Starrett had brought this thing upon himself. Nevertheless—they were his comrades. Open-eyed he had gone into this venture with them. He had a vision of himself skulking away with the glittering booty, creeping off to safety while he left the three unwarned, unprepared, to meet—what?
He did not like that picture.
“No,” he said. “These men are of my race, my comrades. Whatever is to come—I will meet it with them and help them fight it.”
“Yet you would have fought them for my sake—indeed, did fight,” she said. “Why then do you cling to them when you can save yourself, and go free, with treasure? And why, if you will not do this, do you let me go, knowing that if you kept me prisoner, or—killed me, I could not bring my people down upon you?”
“I couldn’t let them hurt you, of course,” he said. “And I’m afraid to make you prisoner, because I might not be able to keep you free from hurt. And I won’t run away. So talk no more, but go—go!”
She thrust the gleaming spears into the ground, slipped the golden bracelets back on her arms, held white hands out to him.
“Now,” she whispered, “now, by the Wisdom of the Mother, I will save you—if I can.”
There was the sound of a horn, far away and high in air it seemed. It was answered by others closer by; mellow, questing notes—with weirdly alien beat in them.
“They come,” the girl said. “My followers. Light your fire to-night. Sleep without fear. But do not wander beyond these trees.”
“Suarra—” he began.
“Quiet now,” she warned. “Quiet—until I am gone.”
The mellow horns sounded closer. She sprang from his side and darted away through the trees. From the ridge above the camp he heard her voice raised in one clear shout. There was a tumult of the horns about her—elfin and troubling. Then silence.
Graydon stood listening. The sun touched the high snowfields of the majestic peaks toward which he faced, touched them and turned them into robes of molten gold. The amethyst shadows that draped their sides thickened, wavered and marched swiftly forward.
Still he listened, hardly breathing.
Far, far away the horns sounded again; faint echoings of the tumult that had swept about the girl—faint, faint and fairy sweet.
The sun dropped behind the peaks; the edges of their frozen mantels glittered as though sewn with diamonds; darkened into a fringe of gleaming rubies. The golden fields dulled, grew amber and then blushed forth a glowing rose. They changed to pearl and faded into a ghostly silver, shining like cloud wraiths in the highest heavens. Down upon the algarroba clump the quick Andean dusk fell.
Not till then did Graydon, shivering with sudden, inexplicable dread, realize that beyond the calling horns and the girl’s clear shouting he had heard no other sound—no noise either of man or beast, no sweeping through of brush or grass, no fall of running feet.
Nothing but that mellow chorus of the horns.