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The Revelation Of Hotep






Part of: Other World Life
From: Pharaoh's Broker

I was not a little surprised to see that they carried me to the same
ante-room in the palace which I had occupied on coming to Kem. But it
was now quite stripped of all furnishings, and over each door were hung
large, closely-spun fabrics, which completely covered and concealed them
from sight. There were but two little windows high above my head, and
had I been free to leap up to them, they were too small to afford me an
exit. Driven into a stone slab of the floor were two large bent-wood
staples. Between these they placed several cushions, upon which they
laid me.

"May it please the strong man to rest here quietly, aye! and to slumber
if he feel the need, until my master, the worshipful Zaphnath, be
risen?" sneered the leader in polite irony, as the soldiers, having
unbound my arms, proceeded to tie each hand securely to one of the
wooden rings. Then with jeers they left me, pointing the fire-arms and
swords at me as they went. I heard them bar the doors on the outside
and try them with a severe shake; then their footsteps receded and all
was still.

As I lay on my back looking up at the vaulted stone roof, I had my first
leisure to reflect on the desperate condition into which we had at last
fallen. The arms, which had meant our supremacy, were in the hands of
our enemies; Hotep, our only friend in the palace, had mysteriously
disappeared; the doctor was taken, perhaps killed by this time; and I
could hardly outlast the day, for Zaphnath would reserve but one fate
for a conspirator who sought his place. How soon would he come, and how
would he dispose of me? I remembered having seen the punishment for
treason of a noble personage, with whom I had once eaten at the
Pharaoh's table. He was confined at the bottom of a tight stone pit, and
a heavy, poisonous gas was slowly poured into it. He could see it slowly
fill the pit, and as it gradually rose toward his nostrils, he could
feel his death gradually measured out to him by inches. When he had
breathed it in a little, his face swelled a livid purple, he choked and
strangled, staggered and fell beneath the murky surface to die out of
sight. The terror of such a slowly creeping danger! the horror of such a
repulsive death! I remember saying at the time that in his place I would
have snatched a quick respite from the lingering agonies by strangling
myself, or tearing my wrist open with my teeth. Now, as I thought of
it, I suddenly remembered my dream of being similarly smothered in the
Gnomons by slowly inpouring grain. A superstitious mind would have
feared that dream foretold my fate, but I was rational enough to
perceive that it must have been suggested to me by a vagrant memory of
the poisoning I had seen.

As I lay thinking thus, I shifted my position a little on the pillows
for better comfort, and my eyes wandered slowly from the vaulted roof to
the daylight at the two little high windows. I started in terror at what
I saw, but blinked my eyes to make sure I was awake, and then looked
more intently. There was no dreaming this time! I saw clearly, and at
both windows, a curling, purple stream of dense, noxious gas pouring
down into the room! It was much heavier than the air, and trickled
slowly down like the ghost of murky waters gradually filling up a great
well. Then I turned to look at the floor, the stones were no longer
visible, but a coat of muddy purple covered them to a depth of several
inches, and the noisome gas already reached almost to the tops of my
cushions! All this had trickled in within ten minutes, and twice as much
more would rise and cover me completely. Then an awful but silent death
would creep into my lungs, and my only friends, the common people of
Kem, would never know how I had perished.

Did I try to strangle myself or tear open my wrist? I could not get hand
and mouth near enough together for either of these expedients, had the
stubborn instinct of self-preservation left them any place in my mind. I
kicked away the cushions, which gave me a little more room to work my
knees under me. Then by straining on my thongs I was able to lift my
head and shoulders upright, and save my nostrils from the noxious stuff
for many minutes longer. All the years of my life on Ptah I had been
vain of my superior physical strength. Would it serve me now to break
the thongs that bound me? I tugged, and pulled, and struggled until I
cut the flesh, but they only drew tighter; yet at each effort I gained a
little more length of thong.

The purple surface, on which death floated, crept up toward me. The room
was gas-tight; the doors were so covered that they could not leak, and
had I succeeded in breaking loose I could not have shaken their bars. To
save myself, I must make a breach in the floor; I must pull up a slab
and let the gaseous poison run out below. That was my only chance. I
worked my knees back as nearly as possible to the edge of the slab into
which the wooden staples were fastened, and threw all my weight and
strength into the effort. The stone did not move. Yet I got more
thong-room, and succeeded in doubling my feet under me to give more
force to the next heave. I felt sure I could have lifted the weight of
the stone if it were free, but struggle as I would, I could not loosen
it from its wedged position. The purple poison had risen to my waist by
this time, and in my violent efforts I had stirred it into billowing
waves which occasionally surged almost to my nostrils. I had breathed a
little which made me faint and giddy. I feared lest I should stagger and
fall into it. Once my head below the surface, and I was most surely and
horribly drowned!

I stood resting a second, anxiously thinking, planning in desperation
and keeping my eyes always fixed on the rising purple. Suddenly, though
I had given no tug, I heard the stone under me crunch at its edges, and
felt it begin to rise a little at one side! What could have loosened it,
when all my efforts had failed? No matter! if I could pull it away now
and make a breach, I would at least gain a long respite. I tugged again
and found it easy to pull the loosened stone up on one edge, till it
tottered and fell over against me. Feverishly I watched the poison about
me; it rose no longer; slowly it began to sink away. Thank God for so
much!

Then suddenly I heard voices calling me. They seemed to come from below.
Yes! It was Hotep in Kemish,--and the doctor in English! Were they
confined in the cavern below, then? And had the gas been reserved for
them, when it had finished its dread work with me? Horrible thought! If
so, in saving myself I was only sending the sure poison to them. Where
were they? I could not see down through the murky stuff; but I must
warn them.

"Halloo! The gas is poisonous! Leap through, save yourselves! Climb out,
or it will kill you!"

"Bear up!" I heard the doctor's voice begin, "one minute more and
we----" Then there was a violent coughing, a door slammed, and the voice
was barely heard--afar off--as through a wall. Had they escaped, then,
to another room? I had no further time to puzzle what it meant, for
another slab of my floor rose, wavered and fell over with a crash, and
up through the purplish gas I could see a great round black thing
rising, stretching high up into the room until its top almost touched
the roof.

My God! It was the projectile!

When the breach in the floor was cleared, all the gas rushed down into
the lower chamber. The projectile eased over on its side, and out of the
rear port-hole came Hotep with a revolver and a sword. He soon had me
cut loose, and then he told me how it all had happened.

He had been chamberlain but a single day when he discovered the
existence of a secret subterranean chamber under the ante-room of the
banquet hall. His curiosity led him to explore this, and in its darkest
recess, unseen at first entrance, he found our projectile. It had been
there ever since the day of its disappearance. During our interview
before Zaphnath and the wise men, they had learned from us that others
could not come from Earth without the projectile, and that we had left
no third person in charge of it. It must have been with an order to make
away with the projectile, and to secrete it in this chamber, that the
third messenger had been dispatched that day. Also on my first evening
in this very ante-room, I had heard Two-spot barking in the chamber
below, and the servant, on hearing him too, had him hastily released,
lest he should betray the hiding-place.

As soon as Hotep had found the projectile, he had sent for us, but it
was the doctor alone who joined him. They two had been busy all that day
and night repairing the projectile and storing it anew. In this manner
the doctor had escaped the soldiers who came at daybreak to capture us
both. Beyond the projectile, Hotep had discovered a secret passage
leading outside the palace walls, which they could use on their errands
of repairs without being observed.

All night they worked without disturbance, but early in the morning
something happened to alarm them. They heard footsteps outside and a
noise at the door which led to the palace. It probably meant death to be
discovered there, but they extinguished their lights, entered the
projectile, and closed the port-holes and lay there quite still. The
door was opened, and soldiers bearing lights entered. But they made no
search; they carried with them our swords, fire-arms, and the two belts
of cartridges, which they deposited here, it being the natural place
for their safe keeping. When they were gone, the doctor emerged and
examined the revolvers and rifles, and finding that five cartridges had
been discharged, he knew there had been a struggle with me in which I
had been worsted. This caused them to hasten their efforts and make an
escape with the projectile as soon as possible. All the supplies
necessary to the batteries had been found intact in their places, and
the compressing of air with the repaired pump and the further storing of
food could be postponed till they were more free to do it.

At last the projectile lifted and worked; slowly it loosened the stones
of my floor above them; but when one stone was pushed aside they noticed
that the daylight did not come through the breach as it ought. They had
heard my cries, and as the gas came down on them, the doctor had slammed
the front port-hole, which was never wide open, and had thus saved
himself. Hotep was safely shut into the other compartment with the
fire-arms and ammunition.

The doctor now came down to the rear port-hole to speak to me.

"My plan is to escape now to the Gnomons, where we will leave Hotep in
possession with most of our fire-arms. You can give him some
instructions how to use them, so that he may defend himself. There we
can finish our stores of air and food." To this I assented, and said to
Hotep,--

"The Gnomons I give to thee, and all the land round about them, as a
reward for thy most valuable assistance. Also I put into thy charge all
my stores of wheat, to be distributed among the needy. Thou must husband
them to last yet four years more, and for thine own thou mayest keep one
measure in twenty. Take thou also a sword, a rifle, a revolver, and a
belt of cartridges. Mayhap, to thy right to rule they may add the power
to be a Pharaoh!"

I was interrupted by a noise below, as of some one opening the door of
the secret chamber. All the deadly gas lurked in that room now, and it
was certain death to whoever opened and entered! Yet if an alarm had
been raised it was there they would immediately go for the fire-arms. I
listened and heard faintly a voice of command, like that of Zaphnath,
saying, "Haste, get me the thunderers!" Then, as the door below creaked
open, I heard it louder: "The thunderers!" Next I heard many men in
violent fits of coughing; I heard some groan and fall; but who or how
many died by the purplish poison intended for me, I never knew.

It was but a moment later that hurried footsteps in the banquet-hall
were heard approaching the veiled doorway. I took the revolver from
Hotep, and motioned him inside the projectile. How cautiously they
opened the door I could not see, for it was behind the great curtain.
Presently, however, the captain who had bound me and bade me wait, drew
aside the curtain, and the Pharaoh stood in the door, and behind him
were a crowd of soldiers armed with cross-bows. In all the number I did
not see the face of Zaphnath. They beheld me alone, and had no reason to
suspect the presence of the others inside the projectile.

"Guard both the doors!" the captain commanded, and a detachment of
soldiers barred the other door, as if thus to prevent me from escaping
with the projectile; for of course they had not seen it rise through the
floor.

"Seize and bind yon traitor!" cried the Pharaoh; "and he who hesitates
shall be flayed!"

"And he who attempts it, shall die ere his first step be taken!" I
replied, levelling the revolver. The captain started for me and I shot
him down.

"If a man of you moves till I have entered this thing, I will kill the
Pharaoh, as I have killed this dog! Ye serve him best who stand still as
ye are!" So saying, I covered the trembling monarch with the revolver,
and with my other hand I opened the rear port-hole; then stooping, I
sprang inside with a quick motion. When the Pharaoh had recovered from
his fright, I heard him cry out,--

"Cast that black thing, and the traitor inside it, into yon poisonous
hole again!"

The soldiers did not fear to act this time, and the whole company seized
the projectile and carried it toward the breach in the floor. As they
lifted it on end to thrust into the hole, I called out to the doctor,
who turned in two batteries, and gently we lifted out of their dumb
hands and rose steadily till we touched the roof. There the vaulted
stonework stopped us, and an exultant shout went up from below. Suddenly
a score of arrows twanged against my window, but the doctor turned in
two more batteries and then gradually we lifted the key of the great
stone arch, broke through the roof, and the whole universe was an open
sea before us!

Crouching by me at the port-hole, Hotep watched the roof collapse and
tumble in. "For thy sake," I said to him, "I hope a falling stone may
have crushed him!"

* * * * *

Thus ended our other-world life. In a time of activity it would never
have occurred to me to write down these events. It was to relieve the
uneventful quiet of our trip back to Earth that I undertook to set down
all our Martian experiences in their proper order. No doubt it was the
changeless monotony of that return journey which made the record appear
to me novel, unusual, and at times exciting. But now, six little months
again on Earth have made the more than three Martian years (equalling
six years of Earth) seem slow, tame, and profitless. If they were
pregnant with adventure, they lacked the real experiences of life which
have been crowded into the half-year since our return.

The very day I reached my old home I found another wheat corner more
wide-spread, if less complete and impregnable, and I set to work to
break it down. Thus the maelstroem of modern commercial life dragged me
into its dizzy whirl before I slept the first night on Earth, and I am
already surfeited with it. I seem to take the Earthly life in too large
and rapid doses. Into the half-year she has put a flattering success and
a dismaying failure. She has given me a month of her sweetest
experiences and another of her bitterest disappointments. As if she knew
I would not remain long at her feast, she has served to me in quick
succession a measure of renown, a taste of fortune, the rapture of
wooing, the bliss of marriage, and the rare delight of loving a soul
created to love me. Then one little drop from the cup of Death
embittered the whole feast and turned me against it all.

In the rush and turmoil of it all I should never have thought of my
crudely written narrative again had not my cousin Ruth, who never tired
of the story, fished it out and sent it to a literary friend in Boston.
It was probably the instant success in the scientific world of Dr.
Anderwelt's scholarly books on Mars and His Life, and the new
direction given to modern thought by his Theory of Parallel Planetary
Life, which led my literary sponsor to think the world would be
interested in a plain, unscientific narrative of our trip Marsward and
our doings there. In agreeing to look it over and cause it to be a "good
delivery" in the literary world, he exacted a promise from me to make
my recent Earthly experiences and our adventures on Venus join in
producing another story. For before the eyes of the first reader have
reached these words, Dr. Anderwelt and I will have departed sunwards, on
the visit to our brilliant sister planet, where, according to his
theory, life will have run through some 31,000 years more than Earth
toward the perfect existence. By the first return of the projectile I
have promised to send back a thorough account of the evolution of life
and the advancement of civilization on Venus, so far as Earthly eyes and
wits can see and know it.





Next: Cully

Previous: The Doctor Disappears



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