Postal - Download the EBook Pony ExpressInformational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

The Dwellers In The Tomb

From: When The World Shook

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

They looked at each other in a frightened way and groaned more loudly
than before.

"He sends you a message, which, as he told us of your approach, we came
to the shore to deliver to you."

"How can you say that?" began Bastin, but was again violently 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

"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

"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

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

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

"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

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

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

"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

"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

"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 non-conducting
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.

Next: Resurrection

Previous: The Island In The Lake

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 403