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The Island In The Lake







From: When The World Shook

We made the canoe fast and landed on the great rock, to perceive that it
was really a peninsula. That is to say, it was joined to the main land
of the lake island by a broad roadway quite fifty yards across, which
appeared to end in the mouth of the cave. On this causeway we noted
a very remarkable thing, namely, two grooves separated by an exact
distance of nine feet which ran into the mouth of the cave and vanished
there.

"Explain!" said Bickley.

"Paths," I said, "worn by countless feet walking on them for thousands
of years."

"You should cultivate the art of observation, Arbuthnot. What do you
say, Bastin?"

He stared at the grooves through his spectacles, and replied:

"I don't say anything, except that I can't see anybody to make paths
here. Indeed, the place seems quite unpopulated, and all the Orofenans
told me that they never landed on it because if they did they would die.
It is a part of their superstitious nonsense. If you have any idea in
your head you had better tell us quickly before we breakfast. I am very
hungry."

"You always are," remarked Bickley; "even when most people's appetites
might have been affected. Well, I think that this great plateau was once
a landing-place for flying machines, and that there is the air-shed or
garage."

Bastin stared at him.

"Don't you think we had better breakfast?" he said. "There are two roast
pigs in that canoe, and lots of other food, enough to last us a week,
I should say. Of course, I understand that the blood you have shed has
thrown you off your balance. I believe it has that effect, except on the
most hardened. Flying machines were only invented a few years ago by the
brothers Wright in America."

"Bastin," said Bickley, "I begin to regret that I did not leave you to
take part in another breakfast yonder--I mean as the principal dish."

"It was Providence, not you, who prevented it, Bickley, doubtless
because I am unworthy of such a glorious end."

"Then it is lucky that Providence is a good shot with a pistol. Stop
talking nonsense and listen. If those were paths worn by feet they
would run to the edge of the rock. They do not. They begin there in that
gentle depression and slope upwards somewhat steeply. The air machines,
which were evidently large, lit in the depression, possibly as a bird
does, and then ran on wheels or sledge skids along the grooves to the
air-shed in the mountain. Come to the cave and you will see."

"Not till we have breakfast," said Bastin. "I will get out a pig. As a
matter of fact, I had no supper last night, as I was taking a class of
native boys and making some arrangements of my own."

As for me, I only whistled. It all seemed very feasible. And yet how
could such things be?

We unloaded the canoe and ate. Bastin's appetite was splendid. Indeed, I
had to ask him to remember that when this supply was done I did not know
where we should find any more.

"Take no thought for the morrow," he replied. "I have no doubt it will
come from somewhere," and he helped himself to another chop.

Never had I admired him so much. Not a couple of hours before he was
about to be cruelly murdered and eaten. But this did not seem to affect
him in the least. Bastin was the only man I have ever known with a
really perfect faith. It is a quality worth having and one that
makes for happiness. What a great thing not to care whether you are
breakfasted on, or breakfast!

"I see that there is lots of driftwood about here," he remarked, "but
unfortunately we have no tea, so in this climate it is of little use,
unless indeed we can catch some fish and cook them."

"Stop talking about eating and help us to haul up the canoe," said
Bickley.

Between the three of us we dragged and carried the canoe a long way from
the lake, fearing lest the natives should come and bear it off with our
provisions. Then, having given Tommy his breakfast off the scraps,
we walked to the cave. I glanced at my companions. Bickley's face was
alight with scientific eagerness. Here are not dreams or speculations,
but facts to be learned, it seemed to say, and I will learn them. The
past is going to show me some of its secrets, to tell me how men of long
ago lived and died and how far they had advanced to that point on the
road of civilisation at which I stand in my little hour of existence.

That of Bastin was mildly interested, no more. Obviously, with half his
mind he was thinking of something else, probably of his converts on
the main island and of the school class fixed for this hour which
circumstances prevented him from attending. Indeed, like Lot's wife he
was casting glances behind him towards the wicked place from which he
had been forced to flee.

Neither the past nor the future had much real interest for Bastin; any
more than they had for Bickley, though for different reasons. The former
was done with; the latter he was quite content to leave in other hands.
If he had any clear idea thereof, probably that undiscovered land
appeared to him as a big, pleasant place where are no unbelievers or
erroneous doctrines, and all sinners will be sternly repressed,
in which, clad in a white surplice with all proper ecclesiastical
trappings, he would argue eternally with the Early Fathers and in due
course utterly annihilate Bickley, that is in a moral sense. Personally
and as a man he was extremely attached to Bickley as a necessary and
wrong-headed nuisance to which he had become accustomed.

And I! What did I feel? I do not know; I cannot describe. An
extraordinary attraction, a semi-spiritual exaltation, I think. That
cave mouth might have been a magnet drawing my soul. With my body I
should have been afraid, as I daresay I was, for our circumstances were
sufficiently desperate. Here we were, castaways upon an island, probably
uncharted, one of thousands in the recesses of a vast ocean, from which
we had little chance of escape. More, having offended the religious
instincts of the primeval inhabitants of that island, we had been forced
to flee to a rocky mountain in the centre of a lake, where, after the
food we had brought with us by accident was consumed, we should no doubt
be forced to choose between death by starvation, or, if we attempted to
retreat, at the hands of justly infuriated savages. Yet these facts did
not oppress me, for I was being drawn, drawn to I knew not what, and if
it were to doom--well, no matter.

Therefore, none of us cared: Bastin because his faith was equal to any
emergency and there was always that white-robed heaven waiting for him
beyond which his imagination did not go (I often wondered whether he
pictured Mrs. Bastin as also waiting; if so, he never said anything
about her); Bickley because as a child of the Present and a servant of
knowledge he feared no future, believing it to be for him non-existent,
and was careless as to when his strenuous hour of life should end; and
I because I felt that yonder lay my true future; yes, and my true past,
even though to discover them I must pass through that portal which we
know as Death.

We reached the mouth of the cave. It was a vast place; perhaps the arch
of it was a hundred feet high, and I could see that once all this
arch had been adorned with sculptures. Protected as these were by the
overhanging rock, for the sculptured mouth of the cave was cut deep into
the mountain face, they were still so worn that it was impossible to
discern their details. Time had eaten them away like an acid. But what
length of time? I could not guess, but it must have been stupendous to
have worked thus upon that hard and sheltered rock.

This came home to me with added force when, from subsequent examination,
we learned that the entire mouth of this cave had been sealed up for
unnumbered ages. It will be remembered that Marama told me the mountain
in the lake had risen much during the frightful cyclone in which we were
wrecked and with it the cave mouth which previously had been invisible.
From the markings on the mountain side it was obvious that something of
the sort had happened very recently, at any rate on this eastern face.
That is, either the flat rock had sunk or the volcano had been thrown
upwards.

Once in the far past the cave had been as it was when we found it. Then
it had gone down in such a way that the table-rock entirely sealed the
entrance. Now this entrance was once more open, and although of course
there was a break in them, the grooves of which I have spoken ran on
into the cave at only a slightly different level from that at which they
lay upon the flat rock. And yet, although they had been thus sheltered
by a great stone curtain in front of them, still these sculptures
were worn away by the tooth of Time. Of course, however, this may have
happened to them before they were buried in some ancient cataclysm, to
be thus resurrected at the hour of our arrival upon the island.

Without pausing to make any closer examination of these crumbled
carvings, we entered the yawning mouth of that great place, following
and indeed walking in the deep grooves that I have mentioned. Presently
it seemed to open out as a courtyard might at the end of a passage; yes,
to open on to some vast place whereof in that gloom we could not see the
roof or the limits. All we knew was that it must be enormous--the echoes
of our voices and footsteps told us as much, for these seemed to come
back to us from high, high above and from far, far away. Bickley and I
said nothing; we were too overcome. But Bastin remarked:


"Did you ever go to Olympia? I did once to see a kind of play where
the people said nothing, only ran about dressed up. They told me it was
religious, the sort of thing a clergyman should study. I didn't think it
religious at all. It was all about a nun who had a baby."

"Well, what of it?" snapped Bickley.

"Nothing particular, except that nuns don't have babies, or if they do
the fact should not be advertised. But I wasn't thinking of that. I was
thinking that this place is like an underground Olympia."

"Oh, be quiet!" I said, for though Bastin's description was not bad, his
monotonous, drawling voice jarred on me in that solemnity.

"Be careful where you walk," whispered Bickley, for even he seemed awed,
"there may be pits in this floor."

"I wish we had a light," I said, halting.

"If candles are of any use," broke in Bastin, "as it happens I have
a packet in my pocket. I took them with me this morning for a certain
purpose."

"Not unconnected with the paraffin and the burning of the idol, I
suppose?" said Bickley. "Hand them over."

"Yes; if I had been allowed a little more time I intended--"

"Never mind what you intended; we know what you did and that's enough,"
said Bickley as he snatched the packet from Bastin's hand and proceeded
to undo it, adding, "By heaven! I have no matches, nor have you,
Arbuthnot!"

"I have a dozen boxes of wax vestas in my other pocket," said Bastin.
"You see, they burn so well when you want to get up a fire on a damp
idol. As you may have noticed, the dew is very heavy here."

In due course these too were produced. I took possession of them as they
were too valuable to be left in the charge of Bastin, and, extracting
a box from the packet, lit two of the candles which were of the short
thick variety, like those used in carriage-lamps.

Presently they burned up, making two faint stars of light which,
however, were not strong enough to show us either the roof or the sides
of that vast place. By their aid we pursued our path, still following
the grooves till suddenly these came to an end. Now all around us was a
flat floor of rock which, as we perceived clearly when we pushed
aside the dust that had gathered thickly on it in the course of ages,
doubtless from the gradual disintegration of the stony walls, had once
been polished till it resembled black marble. Indeed, certain cracks
in the floor appeared to have been filled in with some dark-coloured
cement. I stood looking at them while Bickley wandered off to the right
and a little forward, and presently called to me. I walked to him,
Bastin sticking close to me as I had the other candle, as did the little
dog, Tommy, who did not like these new surroundings and would not leave
my heels.

"Look," said Bickley, holding up his candle, "and tell me--what's that?"

Before me, faintly shown, was some curious structure of gleaming rods
made of yellowish metal, which rods appeared to be connected by wires.
The structure might have been forty feet high and perhaps a hundred
long. Its bottom part was buried in dust.

"What is that?" asked Bickley again.

I made no answer, for I was thinking. Bastin, however, replied:

"It's difficult to be sure in this light, but I should think that it
may be the remains of a cage in which some people who lived here kept
monkeys, or perhaps it was an aviary. Look at those little ladders for
the monkeys to climb by, or possibly for the birds to sit on."

"Are you sure it wasn't tame angels?" asked Bickley.

"What a ridiculous remark! How can you keep an angel in a cage? I--"

"Aeroplane!" I almost whispered to Bickley.

"You've got it!" he answered. "The framework of an aeroplane and a jolly
large one, too. Only why hasn't it oxidised?"

"Some indestructible metal," I suggested. "Gold, for instance, does not
oxidise."

He nodded and said:

"We shall have to dig it out. The dust is feet thick about it; we can do
nothing without spades. Come on."

We went round to the end of the structure, whatever it might be, and
presently came to another. Again we went on and came to another, all of
them being berthed exactly in line.

"What did I tell you?" said Bickley in a voice of triumph. "A whole
garage full, a regular fleet of aeroplanes!"

"That must be nonsense," said Bastin, "for I am quite sure that these
Orofenans cannot make such things. Indeed they have no metal, and even
cut the throats of pigs with wooden knives."

Now I began to walk forward, bearing to the left so as to regain our
former line. We could do nothing with these metal skeletons, and I
felt that there must be more to find beyond. Presently I saw something
looming ahead of me and quickened my pace, only to recoil. For there,
not thirty feet away and perhaps three hundred yards from the mouth of
the cave, suddenly appeared what looked like a gigantic man. Tommy saw
it also and barked as dogs do when they are frightened, and the sound
of his yaps echoed endlessly from every quarter, which scared him to
silence. Recovering myself I went forward, for now I guessed the truth.
It was not a man but a statue.

The thing stood upon a huge base which lessened by successive steps,
eight of them, I think, to its summit. The foot of this base may have
been a square of fifty feet or rather more; the real support or pedestal
of the statue, however, was only a square of about six feet. The figure
itself was little above life-size, or at any rate above our life-size,
say seven feet in height. It was very peculiar in sundry ways.

To begin with, nothing of the body was visible, for it was swathed like
a corpse. From these wrappings projected one arm, the right, in the hand
of which was the likeness of a lighted torch. The head was not veiled.
It was that of a man, long-nosed, thin-lipped, stern-visaged; the
countenance pervaded by an awful and unutterable calm, as deep as that
of Buddha only less benign. On the brow was a wreathed head-dress, not
unlike an Eastern turban, from which sprang two little wings resembling
in some degree those on the famous Greek head of Hypnos, lord of Sleep.
Between the folds of the wrappings on the back sprang two other wings,
enormous wings bent like those of a bird about to take flight. Indeed
the whole attitude of the figure suggested that it was springing from
earth to air. It was executed in black basalt or some stone of the sort,
and very highly finished. For instance, on the bare feet and the arm
which held the torch could be felt every muscle and even some of
the veins. In the same way the details of the skull were perfectly
perceptible to the touch, although at first sight not visible on the
marble surface. This was ascertained by climbing on the pedestal and
feeling the face with our hands.

Here I may say that its modelling as well as that of the feet and the
arm filled Bickley, who, of course, was a highly trained anatomist, with
absolute amazement. He said that he would never have thought it possible
that such accuracy could have been reached by an artist working in so
hard a material.

When the others had arrived we studied this relic as closely as our
two candles would allow, and in turn expressed our opinions of its
significance. Bastin thought that if those things down there were really
the remains of aeroplanes, which he did not believe, the statue had
something to do with flying, as was shown by the fact that it had wings
on its head and shoulders. Also, he added, after examining the face, the
head was uncommonly like that of the idol that he had blown up. It had
the same long nose and severe shut mouth. If he was right, this was
probably another effigy of Oro which we should do well to destroy at
once before the islanders came to worship it.

Bickley ground his teeth as he listened to him.

"Destroy that!" he gasped. "Destroy! Oh! you, you--early Christian."

Here I may state that Bastin was quite right, as we proved subsequently
when we compared the head of the fetish, which, as it will be
remembered, he had brought away with him, with that of the statue.
Allowing for an enormous debasement of art, they were essentially
identical in the facial characteristics. This would suggest the descent
of a tradition through countless generations. Or of course it may have
been accidental. I am sure I do not know, but I think it possible that
for unknown centuries other old statues may have existed in Orofena from
which the idol was copied. Or some daring and impious spirit may have
found his way to the cave in past ages and fashioned the local god upon
this ancient model.

Bickley was struck at once, as I had been, with the resemblance of the
figure to that of the Egyptian Osiris. Of course there were differences.
For instance, instead of the crook and the scourge, this divinity held
a torch. Again, in place of the crown of Egypt it wore a winged
head-dress, though it is true this was not very far removed from the
winged disc of that country. The wings that sprang from its shoulders,
however, suggested Babylonia rather than Egypt, or the Assyrian bulls
that are similarly adorned. All of these symbolical ideas might have
been taken from that figure. But what was it? What was it?

In a flash the answer came to me. A representation of the spirit of
Death! Neither more nor less. There was the shroud; there the cold,
inscrutable countenance suggesting mysteries that it hid. But the torch
and the wings? Well, the torch was that which lighted souls to the other
world, and on the wings they flew thither. Whoever fashioned that statue
hoped for another life, or so I was convinced.

I explained my ideas. Bastin thought them fanciful and preferred his
notion of a flying man, since by constitution he was unable to discover
anything spiritual in any religion except his own. Bickley agreed that
it was probably an allegorical representation of death but sniffed at
my interpretation of the wings and the torch, since by constitution he
could not believe that the folly of a belief in immortality could have
developed so early in the world, that is, among a highly civilised
people such as must have produced this statue.

What we could none of us understand was why this ominous image with its
dead, cold face should have been placed in an aerodrome, nor in fact did
we ever discover. Possibly it was there long before the cave was put to
this use. At first the place may have been a temple and have so remained
until circumstances forced the worshippers to change their habits, or
even their Faith.

We examined this wondrous work and the pedestal on which it stood as
closely as we were able by the dim light of our candles. I was anxious
to go further and see what lay beyond it; indeed we did walk a few
paces, twenty perhaps, onward into the recesses of the cave.

Then Bickley discovered something that looked like the mouth of a well
down which he nearly tumbled, and Bastin began to complain that he was
hot and very thirsty; also to point out that he wished for no more caves
and idols at present.

"Look here, Arbuthnot," said Bickley, "these candles are burning low and
we don't want to use up more if we can prevent it, for we may need what
we have got very badly later on. Now, according to my pocket compass
the mouth of this cave points due east; probably at the beginning it was
orientated to the rising sun for purposes of astronomical observation or
of worship at certain periods of the year. From the position of the sun
when we landed on the rock this morning I imagine that just now it
rises almost exactly opposite to the mouth of the cave. If this is so,
to-morrow at dawn, for a time at least, the light should penetrate as
far as the statue, and perhaps further. What I suggest is that we should
wait till then to explore."

I agreed with him, especially as I was feeling tired, being exhausted
by wonder, and wanted time to think. So we turned back. As we did so I
missed Tommy and inquired anxiously where he was, being afraid lest he
might have tumbled down the well-like hole.

"He's all right," said Bastin. "I saw him sniffing at the base of that
statue. I expect there is a rat in there, or perhaps a snake."

Sure enough when we reached it there was Tommy with his black nose
pressed against the lowest of the tiers that formed the base of the
statue, and sniffing loudly. Also he was scratching in the dust as a dog
does when he has winded a rabbit in a hole. So engrossed was he in this
occupation that it was with difficulty that I coaxed him to leave the
place.

I did not think much of the incident at that time, but afterwards it
came back to me, and I determined to investigate those stones at the
first opportunity.

Passing the wrecks of the machines, we emerged on to the causeway
without accident. After we had rested and washed we set to work to draw
our canoe with its precious burden of food right into the mouth of the
cave, where we hid it as well as we could.

This done we went for a walk round the base of the peak. This proved
to be a great deal larger than we had imagined, over two miles in
circumference indeed. All about it was a belt of fertile land, as I
suppose deposited there by the waters of the great lake and resulting
from the decay of vegetation. Much of this belt was covered with
ancient forest ending in mud flats that appeared to have been thrown
up recently, perhaps at the time of the tidal wave which bore us to
Orofena. On the higher part of the belt were many of the extraordinary
crater-like holes that I have mentioned as being prevalent on the main
island; indeed the place had all the appearance of having been subjected
to a terrific and continuous bombardment.

When we had completed its circuit we set to work to climb the peak in
order to explore the terraces of which I have spoken and the ruins
which I had seen through my field-glasses. It was quite true; they were
terraces cut with infinite labour out of the solid rock, and on them
had once stood a city, now pounded into dust and fragments. We struggled
over the broken blocks of stone to what we had taken for a temple, which
stood near the lip of the crater, for without doubt this mound was an
extinct volcano, or rather its crest. All we could make out when we
arrived was that here had once stood some great building, for its courts
could still be traced; also there lay about fragments of steps and
pillars.

Apparently the latter had once been carved, but the passage of
innumerable ages had obliterated the work and we could not turn these
great blocks over to discover if any remained beneath. It was as though
the god Thor had broken up the edifice with his hammer, or Jove had
shattered it with his thunderbolts; nothing else would account for that
utter wreck, except, as Bickley remarked significantly, the scientific
use of high explosives.

Following the line of what seemed to have been a road, we came to the
edge of the volcano and found, as we expected, the usual depression out
of which fire and lava had once been cast, as from Hecla or Vesuvius. It
was now a lake more than a quarter of a mile across. Indeed it had been
thus in the ancient days when the buildings stood upon the terraces, for
we saw the remains of steps leading down to the water. Perhaps it had
served as the sacred lake of the temple.

We gazed with wonderment and then, wearied out, scrambled back through
the ruins, which, by the way, were of a different stone from the lava of
the mountain, to the mouth of the great cave.





Next: The Dwellers In The Tomb

Previous: Bastin Attempts The Martyr's Crown



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