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)
Charlton Foyle sat in the stern of the boat, and steered with an oar. He was striving to keep her head before the wind, and gazing anxiously at the land, toward which wind and tide were united to take him.
He saw that the cliff-wall rose straight and high. There was no sign of nearer rocks or shallows. It appeared that the cliff rose abruptly from a deep water. What hope could it give?
He could not handle the boat. There was a mast, but it was not stepped, nor had he strength and skill to set it up, or to control its canvas. There were oars, but they were too heavy, and the boat too large for a single man to manage more than one.
Till the storm came in the night he had let the boat drift as it would. He had water; he had food. He had not known where he was, nor in which direction land might be nearest. His only hope was to be picked up by a passing ship.
For many days the sun shone; and the seas were kind. The indolent, laughing waters had rocked him gently, and in their arms he had regained something of the health which he had sought vainly over half the world. He had begun to care for life, when life seemed most likely to elude him. He was aware that he watched the horizons for lift of sail, or trail of smoke, with a keener vigilance than he had done in the weariness of the first days. But it was still with a mind too indifferent to the future for anxiety to disturb it, unless it were aroused by a danger which should be acute and imminent.
He had leaned lazily over the tossing side of the boat, watching strange life in deep water, or gazed at a sky of white-and-blue, or brilliant with tropic stars.
Once a flock of birds passed, low and swift, over the waves. He did not know their kind. They flew straight and fast, as having a clear goal and a common purpose. Should he make some effort to direct the boat in the same way? Even could he do it, he had doubted its wisdom. He knew nothing of how far such birds may travel. They might be on their way to a near land, or they might be leaving the near land behind them. They passed quickly, and the great loneliness of sky and water was again around him.
Once the wide expanse of solitary sky was specked by a great bird that grew in size as it came more nearly overhead. He realized that it was not merely flying over, but was descending toward him. It was grey in colour, larger than a swan, and with broad wings that moved with an occasional powerful stroke. It came low. It circled the boat twice in a narrowing spiral. He saw a long hooked beak, and a dark eye that considered him. He reached for a boat-hook, and was aware that his hand shook as he did so.
Then it came with a rush, close over him. He crouched in the well of the boat, and thrust blindly as it passed.
Because he crouched as he did, the beak missed him. For a second he was under a canopy of feathered wings. The boat-hook caught, and came clear.
He saw the great bird soaring back into the sky. There was a stain of blood on the end of the hook, and some grey feathers floated on the wind, and settled down on the water.
When the wind had risen, he had got out the oar, and striven to keep the boat’s head so that she should not be swamped by the waves. He did not know whether his toil had been needless. The boat was large, strongly built, and half-decked. He supposed that the storm had not been a bad one. Certainly not as bad as some he had witnessed from a liner’s deck. But the waves had seemed large—there was a difference in the point of view.
Anyway, the wind had fallen again. The black menace of the night, with its heaving waters that came out of the darkness, was over, and he was safe, though wearied—and now the sea was carrying him swiftly toward a peril which he had no means of avoiding, or any hope to overcome. Every moment the cliff-wall showed nearer and higher, as the tide swept the boat forward.
At the rate at which it was moving, it obeyed the steering-oar very readily. He could deflect its course, but he doubted whether this would avail him. It might enable him to delay the final impact, or to strike the land somewhat further north than would otherwise be the case, but it seemed that, soon or late, he must be dashed against a cliff-wall that showed neither beach nor break so far as his eyes, could follow it.
Still, the impulse is instinctive to delay a danger which we can see no means of defeating. The swimmer will remain afloat while his strength lasts, though he may have no hope of rescue. The embarrassed tradesman will strive to renew a bill, though, as he well knows, the later date will give no better prospect of solvency. He leaned on the oar till the boat lay almost broadside to an advancing wave. It rolled in the trough, and some water slopped over the gunwale.
Easing it somewhat, he looked shoreward again as the next wave lifted. The morning sun, which was behind him, and still low in the sky, found a break in the flying cloud, and lighted the cliff-face with a fading glory. But he noticed that there was one spot which remained dark. It was not a break in the wall. It was like a cave-mouth at the tide-level. It gave a hope, though a faint one.
He bent his mind to the task of steering toward it.
As he approached the cliff, he saw that the distant view had not enlarged its terrors. It rose straight as a wall. If his boat were beaten against it by the breaking waves, he knew that disaster must be instant and irretrievable.
It seemed, as he neared it, that the pace of the boat was somewhat less, and that his control upon it increased. He wondered whether he might not be wiser to struggle to avoid the peril entirely. Soon or late, changes of wind and tide would be sure to aid him. But the chance was doubtful. His control of the boat, at the best, was not great. If he should work it some distance from the land, the next tide might fling it back, and there might then be no possibility of refuge.
Now, the opening which he had sought was before him, widening in appearance as he approached, and of such height that a fishing-smack could have run in with its sails set.
He was aided, more than he knew, by the fact that the tide was full, and near the turn; and, more by the tide’s caprice than his own skill, he steered to the opening.
The waves that broke on the cliff-wall to right and left made a swirling turmoil of the gap which gave them passage. They rolled the boat till he thought that it would be overset, swept it broadside on, and carried it into a tunnel where it bumped heavily against a wall of rock, recoiled, and the next moment was in somewhat quieter water.
He perceived that the tunnel, though straight in itself, was driven into the cliff obliquely from the sea-line. The cliff faced the east. The tunnel ran north-west. The direct force of the waves did not therefore swing in; yet the boat tossed from side to side, and though he struggled hard with the oar, it got some rough bumps as the waves hurried it inward.
As his eyes became used to the gloom, he saw that the passage ended in a blank wall, against which the water rose and fell restlessly, making a murmurous sound which filled the tunnel. The speed of the boat slackened as he approached it. He shipped the oar and took up the boathook, thinking to fend the boat from the wall of rock which he was nearing. He saw no hope but to remain there and protect the boat as best he might, till the tide should carry him again to the open sea. Then he noticed a heavy iron ring, set in the face of the rock, by which a boat might be moored.
He looked round with an increased wonder and a keener scrutiny. He saw that there were similar rings in the walls on either side. The tunnel had steadily narrowed as it progressed, so that the walls were much nearer than they had been at the entrance. It was evident that a boat moored to the three rings would be secure from being beaten against the rocks. He had abundance of stout cable, and he resolved to fasten it in this manner. He could at least feel that he would not be hurried out to the open sea till he was ready for the adventure.
Commencing to carry out this plan, which was not easy for one man only in the unquiet boat, he had to consider the length of free cable which he should allow. If it were much, the boat would not be centrally held; if little, how would it fare when the tide fell? And it could not fall with it, unless the cables broke. He pictured one breaking, while the others held, and the boat tipped up and its precious cargo scattered into the water.
It was true that he could watch, and pay out or shorten the cables as the need changed, but that could scarcely have been the intention of those who provided this means of security. He was led to wonder how deep might be the water beneath him. He sounded with the boat-hook, and struck rock at about four feet from the surface.
Reassured, he continued his work. If the tide, as he rightly supposed, were full, then his fears were groundless. Even while he worked, he knew that this was so, and that the boat was pulling outward on the ropes that held it.
Also, as he worked, he observed another thing with a fresh wonder. In the inner corner a flight of steps rose in the rock. They were very roughly cut, mere holes for the toes to enter. At intervals at either side, staples were fixed for the climber’s hands to grip. The ladder—if it could be held worthy of such a name—ended in a black hole in a corner of the rock-roof.
Surely, he thought, if human hands had hollowed that great tunnel, they would have given it a less perilous exit. But the hands might not be the same—or they might not have intended that the ascent should be easy.
He considered whether he should attempt to explore it. He did not know what hostility he might arouse. He knew that the cargo which his boat contained would excite the cupidity of all but the most ignorant savages, and from such as they he might encounter a different danger. He believed that he was off the tracks of sea-traffic, or of charted land, and he knew that the lonelier islands of the vast Pacific were the last homes of cannibalism, and of savagery which appeared to be unable to understand any argument but that of extermination.
He realized that, should he climb those steps, his return could not be rapid, at whatever urgency. He realized also that, as the tide fell and his boat grounded, he would be trapped beyond the possibility of flight, should he continue to occupy the tunnel.
On the other hand, the sea offered a precarious hospitality. The steps that fronted him were the only possible alternative. Though it was true that his boat would become immobile as the water fell, it was equally so that no other boat could enter upon him at such a period.
The fact that there was provision for mooring a boat, and that it was vacant, suggested either that the tunnel was unused, or that those who occupied it were absent upon the sea.
He decided to wait till the tide fell, and, if nothing had then happened, he would climb the steps in the assurance that no one could approach the boat in his absence, or attack him in the rear of his exploration.
Meanwhile he was well armed, and none could come upon him hurriedly by such a descent. If a boat should enter while still the water allowed it, he would be trapped indeed, but that risk must be taken, and already it was almost over. There was a repeating rifle in the boat, and this he found and laid near to his hand while he manipulated the mooring ropes so that the boat was drawn close to the steps, and the hollow to which they led was directly above him. He looked up, but he could see nothing. The hole was square and black.
So he sat there, watching the tossing sunlit water at the cave-mouth, and the black vacancy above him, the rifle across his knee. After a time the boat grounded, gently enough, and the water receded from it. He looked to see the whole passage draining equally, but the waves still swept in. He perceived that the floor, which was now bare around him, sloped downward toward the entrance.
As the water receded, he left the boat, and followed it, not being minded to pursue his first intention until he were satisfied that entrance from seaward would be difficult or impossible. He thought also that, if he could look outward from the tunnel, he could observe whether there was any sign of human life on the waters.
He found leisure as he waited to wonder that the floor of the tunnel was bare and black as the waves left it. He would have thought that such a cave would be a trap for sand and shell, and all the ocean’s débris. But he supposed that the smooth slope caused it to be washed clear as the tide receded.
Having no haste, he did not attempt to wade ahead of the tide’s retreat. It was fortunate leisure, as he had realized before he stood, at a later hour, looking over an ocean which sparkled to a tropic sun and showed no sail. For the gentle slope had ended abruptly half-way down the passage, leaving only a narrow ledge of rock to follow on the left hand, apart from which the rock fell across the whole width to a depth he could not tell, for when the tide had fallen a dozen feet below, it had not found its limit.
But he was satisfied to see that, by this time, there was no way of gaining access from the empty seas except it were by the climbing of twelve feet of wall-like rock, against which the waves beat continually.
There were not even any steps such as those which he had resolved to attempt. He judged that they who made or used this tunnel, whether it were yesterday or a thousand years ago—and it might be either, for any means he had of deciding—did not intend that it should be entered, except at high tide, and that it was very certain that no one was now likely to attempt it.
He walked back confident that his rear was secure, and resolved to explore the mystery to which the steps led upward.
It was two months or more since Charlton Foyle had booked a passage to Honolulu on a trading schooner. He had been wandering aimlessly in the summer ways of the world, avoiding the death to which a dozen doctors had doomed him, yet not gaining the health without which life is of a doubtful value.
At Honolulu he had asked to continue on the schooner indefinitely. He did not like the two men who appeared to be the joint owners of the vessel, but that was an unimportant consideration, for he was indifferent to those around him. The schooner was well-found. He had lived less luxuriously on liners of fifty times the tonnage. He felt that the voyage had been beneficial beyond his previous experiences, and was anxious to continue it. They had demurred at first. They excused themselves on the plea that they would be visiting a succession of distant islands, at some of which they might be detained, and that the date of their return was uncertain.
When they found that this did not deter him, they named a figure which they probably thought would be prohibitive. But in the end they had agreed, though with obvious reluctance, and after a quarrel between themselves, which he had partly overheard, though he did not understand its meaning. In view of what he knew later, he was surprised that they had consented at all—unless they were each so afraid of the treachery of the other that they welcomed even a stranger, who must be an embarrassment later. Unless, of course, he were—removed.
He did not know, even now, what dark secrets might explain the events that had followed—which do not concern us now—though it is a tale which might be worth the telling. He only knew that, after a load, of whatever nature, had been taken aboard in the night-time from a nameless beach, they had burst into a sudden quarrel, in which knives had been drawn, and from which they had been separated by the efforts of a crew that appeared to consist about equally of the adherents of either.
And then, on a later night, when he had lain on deck, as he sometimes did, unsuspected in the shadows, and they were anchored beside another nameless beach, a boat had been lowered and stealthily loaded by the men who held the watch, one of the partners superintending. And just as it appeared that the work was finished, the other had rushed up, with his party behind him, and the deck had become the scene of sudden violence, oaths, bare knives, and pistol-shots, and the cough of a dying man.
On a moment’s impulse he had dropped over the side into the loaded boat as the nearest safety from the flying shots of a quarrel which did not concern him, and then become aware, with mingled feelings, that the mooring-rope had parted, and that he was adrift on the ocean.
The distance had widened rapidly from the anchored schooner, while the noise of the fight continued and fell. After an interval of silence, he had heard two shots, and had supposed that the victorious party were disposing of what remained of their opponents. Then there had been a brief silence again, and then a pandemonium of cries that told that the loss of the boat had been discovered.
Should he hail them? He had experienced a natural hesitation. There would be so little difference in one shot more, and one more corpse for the sea’s disposal. And, while he doubted, he drifted further away, into a momentary security, for the night was dark and starless.
As he drifted thus, he realized that his peril might be greater for his silence, were he to be in sight of the ship when the dawn rose, and that his alternative was to be an outcast in the loneliest wastes of the Pacific, where a thousand miles were unsailed and uncharted. But even while he realized his dilemma, the difficulty of explaining his silence had increased, and the distance widened. The ennui of his physical condition inclined him to the choice of inaction. The cries grew fainter, and died away.
The dawn showed him an open ocean without sail or sight of land.
It was typical of Charlton’s disposition, though a condition of health rather than character, that, having assured himself that his rear was secure, and decided his purpose, he was in no haste to commence it. He became conscious that he was hungry, and ate a meal at his leisure. Having done this, he was increasingly aware that he was tired from a night’s vigil, and from the toils in which he had spent it. As the time passed, and there came no threat from the dark aperture above him, he became assured that it held no menace. He did not resolve on sleep, rather it resolved upon him, as he ignored it idly. In the end, sleep he did, and for some hours though his sleep was light and watchful.
Doubtless, when he awaked, he was the better for sleep and food, and he went about his preparations with a careful deliberation. In the boat there was a lantern, which he lit, and, having no belt, he fastened it round him with a length of rope. He placed a loaded revolver in a right-hand pocket.
He looked with hesitation at a very serviceable sword, straight and sharp, neither too light nor too heavy, which was among the boat’s offensive equipment, but he rejected the thought. It was unlikely enough that he would meet with any living thing. If he should do so, they might not be unfriendly. If they were doubtful in their demeanour, a display of weapons would not increase their good-will. More definite in its objection was the fact that he was not used to the wearing of such a weapon, and that it might impede his legs in climbing. Every way the revolver was best and should be sufficient.
The climb was not easy.... The supports, though firm enough, of whatever age or metal, seemed very far apart. The foot-holes were sometimes difficult to find. Clinging closely to the face, of the rock, he had to grope for them with a free foot, the hold of the other sometimes feeling insecure as he did so. He wondered whether the staples would hold, were his whole weight suddenly dragged upon them. He did not like the thought of falling upon the hard stone below. He imagined himself there with a broken leg, struggling to get into the boat before the returning water should drown him—and his life afterwards, if he should be able to live under such conditions. The penalties of accident are heavy to a lonely man.
His arms ached badly. Probably he threw more strain upon them than a more accustomed climber would have done, and his muscles were unused to such effort.
When it seemed that he could climb no more, he realized that it might be harder to return than to continue. He rested for a few moments, so far as rest was possible in such a posture, and started upward again. A doctor might have told him that such experiences were all that were needed to complete a cure that the sea-winds had made possible. A man may die in a gradual lethargy, thinking that he has no will to live, who would yet be roused by a sudden threat of death, before he had gone too low for his will to wake to the conflict.
He was impeded also by the lantern, which would not keep clear of the wall, as he had designed to sling it, but he was glad of its light when he came at last to a place of landing.
At least—should he land? For some time he had left behind the open space of the tunnel and had been ascending a narrow shaft about a yard square. It still continued upward into the darkness, but behind him there was now an opening into an unlighted chamber. Loosing one hand, he leaned sideways from the wall and raised the lantern. He saw nothing but a bare rock floor and an empty darkness.
He was aching to rest his straining arms, and for the security of a solid floor, but still he hesitated. He did not doubt that he could step safely to the floor that was about three feet behind him—but the return? He thought that it might not be so easy to reach forward and clutch the rings, or to stride over vacancy to those precarious footholds. He had a vision of starving there with all his stores beneath him. The bare darkness of the chamber gave no promise of hospitality, nor probability of exit. It might be that the way out (if way there were) was to continue upward.
While he doubted, weariness resolved the problem. He was too exhausted for descent or for further climbing. He reached out a foot, felt firm rock, leaned his weight upon it, and landed easily.
After a short rest, he commenced to explore the chamber. He was not keenly curious, nor did he feel anxious as to what he might discover. The physical exhaustion following the exertions of the night and day, acting on a body which was still searching for health rather than in possession of it, left his mind dull and aloof from his surroundings, now that the need for further effort had lost its urgency.
The lantern showed him a rock chamber, bare and black, about ten feet high, and of about twice that width. Its length was greater, and the light was insufficient to reveal it fully. He judged that its direction was toward the cliff-face, which limited its possibility.
He decided to make a circuit of the walls. If they should show no exit, he must continue to climb into the darkness or give up the enterprise and return to such hospitality as the sea might offer.
Turning to the short inner wall, he came at once to an open passage about three feet broad, and high enough for a man to walk freely. This must run inland, he thought, and gave a better prospect of reaching the surface. So far as the light showed, it was not level, but sloped steadily, though not steeply, upward.
He took a few steps along it and then returned, reluctant to leave an unexplored possibility of danger behind him. He would not risk the chance of anything cutting off his return to the boat, or gaining possession of it in his absence. He resolved that he would first complete the circuit of the walls of the chamber.
Emerging from the passage again, he took the wall left-hand, casting the light before him. He trod in a fine dry dust, which increased in depth as he went forward. The light flickered upon the length of the northern wall. Dim and huge, he caught the figure of a man. He stopped, lifting the light to look more closely. He saw the drawing of a human form, with wide stag-like horns. It was colored a dull red.
The figure was crude, powerful, brutal. It was human, and yet not human. It might be god—or devil. It might be the work of an artist to whom the two had been one. Because art cannot be powerful without sincerity, no artist of our own or of any historic period could have drawn that figure. Charlton may not have realized this, but he recognized that he was looking upon the work of a dim antiquity.
The figure was not more than eight feet high, including the horns, yet it gave an impression of overshadowing size, and of an insatiable ferocity. He shivered, as though chilled, though the cavern was not cold.
He noticed that the figure held a sword in its left hand. He thought that its shape was not unlike that which he had left in the boat. He had an absurd fancy that it was the same. Always the sword, he thought. Races and civilizations rise and die, and their records pass from the minds of men, but the sword continues. Always the sword. His mind wondered and wandered. The figure held it hypnotized. He pulled himself free with difficulty. He looked down in the dust in which he trod—a very fine dry dust—and it had a new significance. It was the dust of things long dead—very long dead.
He went on with altered feelings, as of one who invaded an ancient sanctuary, or a forgotten tomb. The thought that he must beware of the presence of living men had left him wholly. And then, as he completed the length of the chamber—it was surprisingly long—and turned the corner to the shorter wall, he came on something which obliged him to adjust his mind afresh. It was a brass cannon. He saw it while still a few feet away, and at the first glance it was unmistakable.
Coming closer, he saw that it was swivel-mounted, of no recent pattern. He ran the light along it, touching it in wonder to assure himself of its reality. It was covered with a thin coating of dust. He noticed a hint of verdigris at the touch-hole. Otherwise it showed clear and bright as he rubbed the dust aside.
He thought that he saw some writing upon it—or was it ornamental scroll-work only? Looking more closely, he read—The Fighting Sue, 1866. That was definite; but it might have been at a later date that it found its home in this solitude. He looked round for anything which might give further explanation, but he found nothing. There was no powder or ball. There was no other object.
A line of light, very faint, which did not come from the lantern, caught his notice. Looking at the wall which fronted the cannon’s muzzle, he saw a wooden shutter, wide and low, beneath which the light entered. It was made of a hard elm-like wood, showing no sign of decay. It was suspended on a long horizontal hinge. He tried to raise it, and found that he could do so after some effort, though it did not move easily.
He looked through an embrasure cut through two feet of rock. It was not very large on its inner side, but it was shaped in a widening funnel, sloping downward. It showed a broad extent of ocean below him, with long waves rolling inward. If it had been made for the cannon, it, at least, must be recent. But what purpose of defence could it serve—could it ever have served—in this lonely place? Who had left it, and how, and when?
He could find no answer.
But he saw that there were traces of two occupations: one of an incalculable antiquity, and one which, in comparison, was but of yesterday.
With this thought in mind, he observed that the dust was much thicker along the walls than in the centre of the chamber, where it had the impression of many feet, and; looking closely, he was sure that some at least of these feet had been booted.
He completed the examination of the remaining wall, but made no further discovery.
He paused again at the mouth of the shaft, hesitating as to whether he should return to the boat, or explore the tunnel before doing so. He could not resolve the significance of all that he had seen, but it had diminished both his hope and his fear. He now imagined himself alone in a place where men had once been, but which they had long deserted. He had no reason to fear any hostility, nor to hope for any assistance.
The one problem which remained was that of an inland exit from the passage which, he had discovered. That was, at least, probable.
If there were none, his course was clear. He must put to sea again when the conditions appeared favourable. His supply of water would not last forever. That consideration alone was decisive, for these caves showed no stream, nor any faintest trickle of moisture. If he put to sea again, he might find another side to the land, where it would be possible to beach the boat without danger. But this was doubly doubtful, for he knew that his measure of control of the boat gave little prospect of reaching such a goal, did it exist, of which he had no evidence.
On the other hand, if he should find that the passage gave him access to a desert land, he would have to decide whether it would be the better to remain there or to risk the dangers of the sea once more, after he had replenished his stock of water and perhaps augmented the store of food which he carried. It was no hopeful prospect to drift at the mercy of sea and wind, knowing that his life was forfeit to the first serious storm that the days would bring. But then there would be no haste to decide. Really, there was no haste now. He felt tired and lethargic. Had the return to the boat been easier, he would have taken it at once, and rested there before he explored further.
As it was, he stood hesitating, and the lantern decided him. The light flickered, and he observed that the candle which it contained was almost finished. The thought that he might be obliged to stride across the hollow shaft in the darkness waked a sudden panic. Very carefully, lest a jerk should extinguish it, he slung the lantern to his side. He saw the metal loops in the wall before him, and in the urgency of the failing light he leaned forward boldly to grasp them. He hung a moment while his feet scraped for the holes, and the light went out as he found them. But it was easier to descend than it had been to climb upward, and he had beneath him a more definite and desired objective.
It was long after noon when he regained the boat, and the tide had risen far, though it had not yet reached it. He had gained this much by his enterprise; he was no longer anxious lest any hostility should threaten him from the aperture above him. If there were any men living who had access to that gloomy chamber (which he greatly doubted), they were making no use of their knowledge, and it was little likely that they would be aware of his presence. He ate with an appetite such as he had not known for a long time; after which, he decided to wait till the next day before continuing his exploration. He put a fresh candle into the lantern, though he did not light it; laid it beside the loaded rifle, near to his hand, and settled himself into the bed that he had made in the stern of the boat, on which he had slept so many nights while the summer seas had rocked him.
He did not sleep at once, as he had expected to do. He lay awake till the darkness came, and the boat was lifted again in the arms of the advancing water. He felt her pull on the cables, now on this, now on that, as the waves swayed her. Soon she settled to a motion which was gentler and more regular than that to which he had been accustomed on the open sea. But still he did not lose consciousness. Perhaps he missed the stars overhead. When at last he slept, he dreamed—dreams of the kind which cause the sleeper to wake with a sense of misery and foreboding beyond reason.
He waked in a different mood from that with which the night had assailed him. He cared nothing for dreams, or for the dust of forgotten days. He was of no mind to venture again upon a deserted ocean, in a boat which he could not guide, if there were any better possibility. By the coastline he had seen he judged that the land must be of considerable extent. If it were uninhabited, it might give the means of sustaining life very easily in such latitude. The cave above him offered shelter already, which appeared to be his for the taking. If there were other inhabitants, they might be friendly. He could explore with caution. He need not show himself till he were sure that it would be safe to do so. Everything depended upon a landward exit to the passage he had discovered, or to the shaft above, and surely it was probable that one of these would give it.
He became keen to start, hurrying his morning meal, and even considered carrying up some of his possessions, his mind beginning to regard the upper chamber as his headquarters, rather than the boat which had brought him to it. He resisted this impulse, but he started in good spirits, equipped for a day’s absence. He was less indifferent to life, and more alert to meet it than he had been for years. Circumstance had pressed upon him till he had been forced to react against it, and it had occupied his mind so that he was not even aware of the change which it had induced.
He climbed more quickly than yesterday, and was soon in the deserted chamber. He resolved to examine it once again before entering the tunnel, lest he should have overlooked anything of significance on his first circuit.
He found nothing; but, coming to the wooden shutter which covered the embrasure, it occurred to him that he would gain some light if he should fasten it upwards. Examination showed that this had been done by means of short chains and staples which were fixed into the rock. Having raised it thus, and satisfied himself that it was firmly held, he leaned out to survey the scene beneath him. It was idly done, a moment’s gazing at the sunlit water before he returned his eyes to the dark interior.
A moment later, he was going up the dark tunnel. It was a gentle, steady ascent, straight and long. The tunnel was quite dry. The air was good enough, though he could feel no current. Becoming curious on the point, he exposed the flame of the lantern. It bent, though very slightly. It indicated a very gentle passage of air in the direction in which he was going. He took this to imply that there must be some opening before him, and his pace increased, though he watched his steps carefully. After what he thought to be about half a mile, the ascent ceased. For a short distance the floor was level, then it began to descend. Here he passed an opening on his left hand, but he decided to continue straight forward. There was still no sign of light ahead, but he was suddenly aware that the walls had ceased. He stopped abruptly, daunted by what he saw. He was in a dark chamber, such as he had left at the other end of the passage. But it was not empty. It was choked with snakes. They writhed in heaps on the floor! They were piled to his own height in fantastic contortions. He moved slightly, and something cold and soft flicked his cheek.
He cried out sharply. But even as he did so, he had subdued the first impulse of panic, and had realized its foolishness. It was a vegetable growth that confronted him. Root or branch—he could not tell which. Leafless, livid, fantastic, writhing forms, with pale tints of green or yellow. Advancing upon them, he saw that they entered through an aperture in the wall before him. They crushed in, shutting out all light, almost all air. He wished that he had brought the sword to hack through them. Evidently there was a way out where they entered. He could see no other.
He was excited and eager now to find what the outside might offer. He was in no mood to be deterred by such an obstacle. He laid down the lantern and commenced to clear the way. Inspecting them more closely, he decided that he was confronted by the arms of some creeping plants which, having lost themselves through the window of this chamber, maintained a sickly existence in the darkness.
He found them tough and difficult to sever, and if he pulled as he broke them, a further length would be drawn in, and he had little gain for his effort. But he worked with energy, and soon had his way clear to a window about three feet square, though he could see nothing through it. The creeper filled the opening, which pierced a wall of rock two or three feet in thickness. Even when he had cleared it sufficiently to discover the limit of its depth, the same growth covered it, a curtain through which no observation could penetrate.
Leaning forward, he worked gently at the screen which closed his view. He was cautious now, not knowing what strange sight might be near him. Finding how thick and close was the obstacle which confronted him, he tried to break more of the impending growth away, but he was confronted now with the thicker stems of the main growth of the plant. It was a living matted wall three feet thick, with stems as thick as his own thigh, through which he at length worked a sufficient opening for the light to enter.
Lying forward, half on the floor of the aperture and half on the supporting creeper, he at last saw the land outside.
A wide prospect, several miles in extent, lay beneath and before him. He was looking out from a hillside, not so abrupt as were the cliffs to seaward, yet so steep that it could have been climbed with difficulty but for the vegetation which covered it, which appeared to be of one kind only. The back-sloping side curved forward to right and left in a gigantic arc, as though the whole island were one huge volcanic crater (as perhaps it had been), and it was draped and hidden from base to skyline in a garment of glossy green, as dark as winter ivy, formed by the giant creeper, which flowered profusely with enormous saucer-shaped flowers of a plumbago-blue colour, and of an overpowering fragrance.
But Charlton’s first glance was not upon this garmenting of the rocky wall from which he looked. He had not pushed his way out sufficiently far to see it. He was aware of flat ground two hundred feet beneath him, parrot-green, looking like a grazed field, and beyond that a dark forest of trees, growing close and high, at the sight of which he felt chilled, though the air was warm and windless, for it recalled a forest of which he had dreamed in the night, and which he had feared to enter.
He did not doubt that it was the same, and that the dream had warned him against it.
From his vantage of height he could see somewhat over and beyond the forest, which stretched for several miles before him. Beyond was higher ground, thinly wooded. There was no sign of cultivation, or of the abodes of men, except—far to southward—something shone marble-white in the sunlight.
It might be house or temple. He could not tell.
Encouraged by the solitude of the scene, and reflecting that no creature, human or other, could have been using the entrance he occupied for many months, nor, probably, for a longer period, he pushed further outward, as far as he could do it with safety, till half his weight was upon the branches of the creeper. He saw the crater-like curve of the flower-clad cliff from which he looked. He supposed that it might continue on either hand, until it encircled the island. It must be an island surely!
He remained there for a long time, satisfied that he could not be seen either from beneath or above, and watching for any sign of moving life. He heard the cries of sea-birds, and of others from the forest. He saw many doves, of an unfamiliar kind, which flew to the hillside. Doubtless they rested in the green-clad wall from which he looked. He thought that he heard the chattering of monkeys. He noticed that the forest had little resemblance to the wooded places of the Pacific islands among which he had wandered.
He decided he would bring up all the stores from the boat into the greater security of the chamber above it. Perhaps he would bring them here in time. There was time in plenty. A lifetime, it might be. He would do that first and make all things secure, and he would venture out at his leisure. It would be easy to clamber down the sloping wall, with the growth of the creeper three feet thick upon it. He could not fail if he tried. Something moved at the edge of the forest. He had become weary of watching, and did not notice it as it first emerged. It was like a large dog.
It was going to a little pool that lay between the trees and the open green beneath him. (Why did the trees end so suddenly? What was the meaning of the bare green level beneath him? his mind wandered to ask.) The creature stood upright, and he saw that it was a man. It went down on all fours again, and he saw that it was a beast. It was in a clearer light now. Men can see far in the glare of a tropic noon. Charlton saw that it had horns on its head. Horns like a goat. It put a bearded face to the water. Having drunk, it rose upright again. Certainly it was a man. Very hairy, or perhaps wearing a coat of skins. And yet the feet were hooved unless the light deceived him. The creature dropped on all fours again. It disappeared.
Charlton’s curiosity was aroused. He would explore that forest when he was ready. The creature, man or beast, had not seemed very formidable. But he would take the rifle when he did so.