Two Hundred And Fifty Thousand Years!
From: When The World Shook
"You seem to have made the best of your time, old fellow," said Bickley
in rather a sour voice.
"I never knew people begin to call each other by their Christian names
so soon," added Bastin, looking at me with a suspicious eye.
"I know no other," I said.
"Perhaps not, but at any rate you have another, though you don't seem to
have told it to her. Anyway, I am glad they are gone, for I was getting
tired of being ordered by everybody to carry about wood and water for
them. Also I am terribly hungry as I can't eat before it is light. They
have taken most of the best fruit to which I was looking forward, but
thank goodness they do not seem to care for pork."
"So am I," said Bickley, who really looked exhausted. "Get the food,
there's a good fellow. We'll talk afterwards."
When we had eaten, somewhat silently, I asked Bickley what he made of
the business; also whither he thought the sleepers had gone.
"I think I can answer the last question," interrupted Bastin. "I expect
it is to a place well known to students of the Bible which even Bickley
mentions sometimes when he is angry. At any rate, they seem to be very
fond of heat, for they wouldn't part from it even in their coffins, and
you will admit that they are not quite natural, although that Glittering
Lady is so attractive as regards her exterior."
Bickley waved these remarks aside and addressed himself to me.
"I don't know what to think of it," he said; "but as the experience is
not natural and everything in the Universe, so far as we know it, has a
natural explanation, I am inclined to the belief that we are suffering
from hallucinations, which in their way are also quite natural. It does
not seem possible that two people can really have been asleep for an
unknown length of time enclosed in vessels of glass or crystal, kept
warm by radium or some such substance, and then emerge from them
comparatively strong and well. It is contrary to natural law."
"How about microbes?" I asked. "They are said to last practically for
ever, and they are living things. So in their case your natural law
"That is true," he answered. "Some microbes in a sealed tube and under
certain conditions do appear to possess indefinite powers of life. Also
radium has an indefinite life, but that is a mineral. Only these people
are not microbes nor are they minerals. Also, experience tells us that
they could not have lived for more than a few months at the outside in
such circumstances as we seemed to find them."
"Then what do you suggest?"
"I suggest that we did not really find them at all; that we have all
been dreaming. You know that there are certain gases which produce
illusions, laughing gas is one of them, and that these gases are
sometimes met with in caves. Now there were very peculiar odours in that
place under the statue, which may have worked upon our imaginations in
some such way. Otherwise we are up against a miracle, and, as you know,
I do not believe in miracles."
"I do," said Bastin calmly. "You'll find all about it in the Bible if
you will only take the trouble to read. Why do you talk such rubbish
"Because only gas, or something of the sort, could have made us imagine
"Nonsense, Bickley! Those people were here right enough. Didn't they eat
our fruit and drink the water I brought them without ever saying thank
you? Only, they are not human. They are evil spirits, and for my part
I don't want to see any more of them, though I have no doubt Arbuthnot
does, as that Glittering Lady threw her arms round his neck when she
woke up, and already he is calling her by her Christian name, if the
word Christian can be used in connection with her. The old fellow had
the impudence to tell us that he was a god, and it is remarkable that
he should have called himself Oro, seeing that the devil they worship on
the island is also called Oro and the place itself is named Orofena."
"As to where they have gone," continued Bickley, taking no notice of
Bastin, "I really don't know. My expectation is, however, that when
we go to look tomorrow morning--and I suggest that we should not do so
before then in order that we may give our minds time to clear--we shall
find that sepulchre place quite empty, even perhaps without the crystal
coffins we have imagined to stand there."
"Perhaps we shall find that there isn't a cave at all and that we are
not sitting on a flat rock outside of it," suggested Bastin with heavy
sarcasm, adding, "You are clever in your way, Bickley, but you can talk
more rubbish than any man I ever knew."
"They told us they would come back tonight or tomorrow," I said. "If
they do, what will you say then, Bickley?"
"I will wait till they come to answer that question. Now let us go for
a walk and try to change our thoughts. We are all over-strained and
scarcely know what we are saying."
"One more question," I said as we rose to start. "Did Tommy suffer from
hallucinations as well as ourselves?"
"Why not?" answered Bickley. "He is an animal just as we are, or perhaps
we thought we saw Tommy do the things he did."
"When you found that basket of fruit, Bastin, which the natives brought
over in the canoe, was there a bough covered with red flowers lying on
the top of it?"
"Yes, Arbuthnot, one bough only; I threw it down on the rock as it got
in the way when I was carrying the basket."
"Which flowering bough we all thought we saw the Sleeper Oro carry away
after Tommy had brought it to him."
"Yes; he made me pick it up and give it to him," said Bastin.
"Well, if we did not see this it should still be lying on the rock, as
there has been no wind and there are no animals here to carry it away.
You will admit that, Bickley?"
"Then if it has gone you will admit also that the presumption is that we
saw what we thought we did see?"
"I do not know how that conclusion can be avoided, at any rate so far as
the incident of the bough is concerned," replied Bickley with caution.
Then, without more words, we started to look. At the spot where the
bough should have been, there was no bough, but on the rock lay several
of the red flowers, bitten off, I suppose, by Tommy while he was
carrying it. Nor was this all. I think I have mentioned that the
Glittering Lady wore sandals which were fastened with red studs that
looked like rubies or carbuncles. On the rock lay one of these studs.
I picked it up and we examined it. It had been sewn to the sandal-strap
with golden thread or silk. Some of this substance hung from the hole
drilled in the stone which served for an eye. It was as rotten as
tinder, apparently with extreme age. Moreover, the hard gem itself was
pitted as though the passage of time had taken effect upon it, though
this may have been caused by other agencies, such as the action of the
radium rays. I smiled at Bickley who looked disconcerted and even sad.
In a way it is painful to see the effect upon an able and earnest man of
the upsetting of his lifelong theories.
We went for our walk, keeping to the flat lands at the foot of the
volcano cone, for we seemed to have had enough of wonders and to desire
to reassure ourselves, as it were, by the study of natural and
familiar things. As it chanced, too, we were rewarded by sundry useful
discoveries. Thus we found a place where the bread-tree and other
fruits, most of them now ripe, grew in abundance, as did the yam. Also,
we came to an inlet that we noticed was crowded with large and beautiful
fish from the lake, which seemed to find it a favourite spot. Perhaps
this was because a little stream of excellent water ran in here,
overflowing from the great pool or mere which filled the crater above.
At these finds we rejoiced greatly, for now we knew that we need not
fear starvation even should our supply of food from the main island be
cut off. Indeed, by help of some palm-leaf stalks which we wove together
roughly, Bastin, who was rather clever at this kind of thing, managed
to trap four fish weighing two or three pounds apiece, wading into the
water to do so. It was curious to observe with what ease he adapted
himself to the manners and customs of primeval man, so much so, indeed,
that Bickley remarked that if he could believe in re-incarnation, he
would be absolutely certain that Bastin was a troglodyte in his last
sojourn on the earth.
However this might be, Bastin's primeval instincts and abilities were of
the utmost service to us. Before we had been many days on that island
he had built us a kind of native hut or house roofed with palm leaves in
which, until provided with a better, as happened afterwards, we ate and
he and Bickley slept, leaving the tent to me. Moreover, he wove a net
of palm fibre with which he caught abundance of fish, and made
fishing-lines of the same material (fortunately we had some hooks) which
he baited with freshwater mussels and the insides of fish. By means of
these he secured some veritable monsters of the carp species that proved
most excellent eating. His greatest triumph, however, was a decoy which
he constructed of boughs, wherein he trapped a number of waterfowl. So
that soon we kept a very good table of a sort, especially after he
had learned how to cook our food upon the native plan by means of hot
stones. This suited us admirably, as it enabled Bickley and myself to
devote all our time to archaeological and other studies which did not
greatly interest Bastin.
By the time that we got back to camp it was drawing towards evening,
so we cooked our food and ate, and then, thoroughly exhausted, made
ourselves as comfortable as we could and went to sleep. Even our
marvelous experiences could not keep Bickley and myself from sleeping,
and on Bastin such things had no effect. He accepted them and that was
all, much more readily than we did, indeed. Triple-armed as he was in
the mail of a child-like faith, he snapped his fingers at evil spirits
which he supposed the Sleepers to be, and at everything else that other
men might dread.
Now, as I have mentioned, after our talk with Marama, although we did
not think it wise to adventure ourselves among them again at present, we
had lost all fear of the Orofenans. In this attitude, so far as Marama
himself and the majority of his people were concerned, we were quite
justified, for they were our warm friends. But in the case of the
sorcerers, the priests and all their rascally and superstitious
brotherhood, we were by no means justified. They had not forgiven Bastin
his sacrilege or for his undermining of their authority by the preaching
of new doctrines which, if adopted, would destroy them as a hierarchy.
Nor had they forgiven Bickley for shooting one of their number, or any
of us for our escape from the vengeance of their god.
So it came about that they made a plot to seize us all and hale us off
to be sacrificed to a substituted image of Oro, which by now they had
set up. They knew exactly where we slept upon the rock; indeed, our fire
showed it to them and so far they were not afraid to venture, since here
they had been accustomed for generations to lay their offerings to
the god of the Mountain. Secretly on the previous night, without the
knowledge of Marama, they had carried two more canoes to the borders of
the lake. Now on this night, just as the moon was setting about three
in the morning, they made their attack, twenty-one men in all, for the
three canoes were large, relying on the following darkness to get us
away and convey us to the place of sacrifice to be offered up at dawn
and before Marama could interfere.
The first we knew of the matter, for most foolishly we had neglected to
keep a watch, was the unpleasant sensation of brawny savages kneeling on
us and trussing us up with palm-fibre ropes. Also they thrust handfuls
of dry grass into our mouths to prevent us from calling out, although as
air came through the interstices of the grass, we did not suffocate. The
thing was so well done that we never struck a blow in self-defence, and
although we had our pistols at hand, much less could we fire a shot. Of
course, we struggled as well as we were able, but it was quite useless;
in three minutes we were as helpless as calves in a net and like calves
were being conveyed to the butcher. Bastin managed to get the gag out
of his mouth for a few seconds, and I heard him say in his slow, heavy
"This, Bickley, is what comes of trafficking with evil spirits in museum
cases--" There his speech stopped, for the grass wad was jammed down his
throat again, but distinctly I heard the inarticulate Bickley snort
as he conceived the repartee he was unable to utter. As for myself, I
reflected that the business served us right for not keeping a watch, and
abandoned the issue to fate.
Still, to confess the truth, I was infinitely more sorry to die than I
should have been forty-eight hours earlier. This is a dull and in most
ways a dreadful world, one, if we could only summon the courage, that
some of us would be glad to leave in search of new adventures. But here
a great and unprecedented adventure had begun to befall me, and
before its mystery was solved, before even I could formulate a theory
concerning it, my body must be destroyed, and my intelligence that was
caged therein, sent far afield; or, if Bickley were right, eclipsed.
It seemed so sad just when the impossible, like an unguessed wandering
moon, had risen over the grey flats of the ascertained and made them
shine with hope and wonder.
They carried us off to the canoes, not too gently; indeed, I heard the
bony frame of Bastin bump into the bottom of one of them and reflected,
not without venom, that it served him right as he was the fount and
origin of our woes. Two stinking magicians, wearing on their heads
undress editions of their court cages, since these were too cumbersome
for active work of the sort, and painted all over with various pigments,
were just about to swing me after him into the same, or another canoe,
when something happened. I did not know what it was, but as a result, my
captors left hold of me so that I fell to the rock, lying upon my back.
Then, within my line of vision, which, it must be remembered, was
limited because I could not lift my head, appeared the upper part of the
tall person of the Ancient who said that he was named Oro. I could only
see him down to his middle, but I noted vaguely that he seemed to be
much changed. For instance, he wore a different coloured dress, or
rather robe; this time it was dark blue, which caused me to wonder where
on earth it came from. Also, his tremendous beard had been trimmed
and dressed, and on his head there was a simple black cap, strangely
quilted, which looked as though it were made of velvet. Moreover,
his face had plumped out. He still looked ancient, it is true, and
unutterably wise, but now he resembled an antique youth, so great were
his energy and vigour. Also, his dark and glowing eyes shone with a
fearful intensity. In short, he seemed impressive and terrible almost
He looked about him slowly, then asked in a deep, cold voice, speaking
in the Orofenan tongue:
"What do you, slaves?"
No one seemed able to answer, they were too horror-stricken at this
sudden vision of their fabled god, whose fierce features of wood had
become flesh; they only turned to fly. He waved his thin hand and they
came to a standstill, like animals which have reached the end of their
tether and are checked by the chains that bind them. There they stood
in all sorts of postures, immovable and looking extremely ridiculous in
their paint and feathers, with dread unutterable stamped upon their evil
The Sleeper spoke again:
"You would murder as did your forefathers, O children of snakes and hogs
fashioned in the shape of men. You would sacrifice those who dwell in my
shadow to satisfy your hate because they are wiser than you. Come hither
thou," and he beckoned with a bony finger to the chief magician.
The man advanced towards him in short jumps, as a mechanical toy might
do, and stood before him, his miniature crate and feathers all awry and
the sweat of terror melting the paint in streaks upon his face.
"Look into the eyes of Oro, O worshipper of Oro," said the Sleeper, and
he obeyed, his own eyes starting out of his head.
"Receive the curse of Oro," said the Ancient again. Then followed a
terrible spectacle. The man went raving mad. He bounded into the air to
a height inconceivable. He threw himself upon the ground and rolled upon
the rock. He rose again and staggered round and round, tearing pieces
out of his arms with his teeth. He yelled hideously like one possessed.
He grovelled, beating his forehead against the rock. Then he sat up,
slowly choked and--died.
His companions seemed to catch the infection of death as terrified
savages often do. They too performed dreadful antics, all except three
of them who stood paralysed. They rushed about battering each other with
their fists and wooden weapons, looking like devils from hell in
their hideous painted attire. They grappled and fought furiously. They
separated and plunged into the lake, where with a last grimace they sank
It seemed to last a long while, but I think that as a matter of fact
within five minutes it was over; they were all dead. Only the three
paralysed ones remained standing and rolling their eyes.
The Sleeper beckoned to them with his thin finger, and they walked
forward in step like soldiers.
"Lift that man from the boat," he said, pointing to Bastin, "cut his
bonds and those of the others."
They obeyed with a wonderful alacrity. In a minute we stood at liberty
and were pulling the grass gags from our mouths. The Ancient pointed
to the head magician who lay dead upon the rock, his hideous, contorted
countenance staring open-eyed at heaven.
"Take that sorcerer and show him to the other sorcerers yonder," he
said, "and tell them where your fellows are if they would find them.
Know by these signs that the Oro, god of the Mountain, who has slept a
while, is awake, and ill will it go with them who question his power or
dare to try to harm those who dwell in his house. Bring food day by day
and await commands. Begone!"
The dreadful-looking body was bundled into one of the canoes, that
out of which Bastin had emerged. A rower sprang into each of them and
presently was paddling as he had never done before. As the setting
moon vanished, they vanished with it, and once more there was a great
"I am going to find my boots," said Bastin. "This rock is hard and I
hurt my feet kicking at those poor fellows who appear to have come to a
bad end, how, I do not exactly understand. Personally, I think that more
allowances should have been made for them, as I hope will be the case
elsewhere, since after all they only acted according to their lights."
"Curse their lights!" ejaculated Bickley, feeling his throat which was
bruised. "I'm glad they are out."
Bastin limped away in search of his boots, but Bickley and I stood where
we were contemplating the awakened Sleeper. All recollection of the
recent tumultuous scene seemed to have passed from his mind, for he was
engaged in a study of the heavens. They were wonderfully brilliant now
that the moon was down, brilliant as they only can be in the tropics
when the sky is clear.
Something caused me to look round, and there, coming towards us, was she
who said her name was Yva. Evidently all her weakness had departed also,
for now she needed no support, but walked with a peculiar gliding motion
that reminded me of a swan floating forward on the water. Well had we
named her the Glittering Lady, for in the starlight literally she seemed
to glitter. I suppose the effect came from her golden raiment, which,
however, I noticed, as in her father's case, was not the same that she
had worn in the coffin; also from her hair that seemed to give out a
light of its own. At least, she shimmered as she came, her tall shape
swaying at every step like a willow in the wind. She drew near, and
I saw that her face, too, had filled out and now was that of one in
perfect health and vigour, while her eyes shone softly and seemed
In her hands she carried those two plates of metal which I had seen
lying in the coffin of the Sleeper Oro. These she gave to him, then fell
back out of his hearing--if it were ever possible to do this, a point
on which I am not sure--and began to talk to me. I noted at once that in
the few hours during which she was absent, her knowledge of the Orofenan
tongue seemed to have improved greatly as though she had drunk deeply
from some hidden fount of memory. Now she spoke it with readiness, as
Oro had done when he addressed the sorcerers, although many of the words
she used were not known to me, and the general form of her language
appeared archaic, as for instance that of Spenser is compared with
modern English. When she saw I did not comprehend her, however, she
would stop and cast her sentences in a different shape, till at length I
caught her meaning. Now I give the substance of what she said.
"You are safe," she began, glancing first at the palm ropes that lay
upon the rock and then at my wrists, one of which was cut.
"Yes, Lady Yva, thanks to your father."
"You should say thanks to me. My father was thinking of other things,
but I was thinking of you strangers, and from where I was I saw those
wicked ones coming to kill you."
"Oh! from the top of the mountain, I suppose."
She shook her head and smiled but vouchsafed no further explanation,
unless her following words can be so called. These were:
"I can see otherwise than with my eyes, if I choose." A statement that
caused Bickley, who was listening, to mutter:
"Impossible! What the deuce can she mean? Telepathy, perhaps."
"I saw," she continued, "and told the Lord, my father. He came forth.
Did he kill them? I did not look to learn."
"Yes. They lie in the lake, all except three whom he sent away as
"I thought so. Death is terrible, O Humphrey, but it is a sword which
those who rule must use to smite the wicked and the savage."
Not wishing to pursue this subject, I asked her what her father was
doing with the metal plates.
"He reads the stars," she answered, "to learn how long we have been
asleep. Before we went to sleep he made two pictures of them, as
they were then and as they should be at the time he had set for our
"We set that time," interrupted Bickley.
"Not so, O Bickley," she answered, smiling again. "In the divine Oro's
head was the time set. You were the hand that executed his decree."
When Bickley heard this I really thought he would have burst. However,
he controlled himself nobly, being anxious to hear the end of this
"How long was the time that the lord Oro set apart for sleep?" I asked.
She paused as though puzzled to find words to express her meaning, then
held up her hands and said:
"Ten," nodding at her fingers. By second thoughts she took Bickley's
hands, not mine, and counted his ten fingers.
"Ten years," said Bickley. "Well, of course, it is impossible, but
perhaps--" and he paused.
"Ten tens," she went on with a deepening smile, "one hundred."
"O!" said Bickley.
"Ten hundreds, one thousand."
"I say!" said Bickley.
"Ten times ten thousand, one hundred thousand."
Bickley became silent.
"Twice one hundred thousand and half a hundred thousand, two hundred and
fifty thousand years. That was the space of time which the lord Oro, my
father, set for our sleep. Whether it has been fulfilled he will know
presently when he has read the book of the stars and made comparison of
it with what he wrote before we laid us down to rest," and she pointed
to the metal plates which the Ancient was studying.
Bickley walked away, making sounds as though he were going to be ill and
looking so absurd in his indignation that I nearly laughed. The Lady Yva
actually did laugh, and very musical was that laugh.
"He does not believe," she said. "He is so clever he knows everything.
But two hundred and fifty thousand years ago we should have thought him
quite stupid. Then we could read the stars and calculate their movements
"So can we," I answered, rather nettled.
"I am glad, O Humphrey, since you will be able to show my father if in
one of them he is wrong."
Secretly I hoped that this task would not be laid on me. Indeed, I
thought it well to change the subject for the edification of Bickley who
had recovered and was drawn back by his eager curiosity. Just then, too,
Bastin joined us, happy in his regained boots.
"You tell us, Lady Yva," I said, "that you slept, or should have slept
for two hundred and fifty thousand years." Here Bastin opened his eyes.
"If that was so, where was your mind all this time?"
"If by my mind you mean spirit, O Humphrey, I have to answer that at
present I do not know for certain. I think, however, that it dwelt
elsewhere, perhaps in other bodies on the earth, or some different
earth. At least, I know that my heart is very full of memories which as
yet I cannot unroll and read."
"Great heavens, this is madness!" said Bickley.
"In the great heavens," she answered slowly, "there are many things
which you, poor man, would think to be madness, but yet are truth and
perfect wisdom. These things, or some of them, soon I shall hope to show
"Do if you can," said Bickley.
"Why not?" interrupted Bastin. "I think the lady's remarks quite
reasonable. It seems to me highly improbable if really she has slept for
two hundred and fifty thousand years, which, of course, I can't decide,
that an immortal spirit would be allowed to remain idle for so long.
That would be wallowing in a bed of idleness and shirking its duty which
is to do its work. Also, as she tells you, Bickley, you are not half
so clever as you think you are in your silly scepticism, and I have no
doubt that there are many things in other worlds which would expose your
ignorance, if only you could see them."
At this moment Oro turned and called his daughter. She went at once,
"Come, strangers, and you shall learn."
So we followed her.
"Daughter," he said, speaking in Orofenan, I think that we might
understand, "ask these strangers to bring one of those lamps of theirs
that by the light of it I may study these writings."
"Perhaps this may serve," said Bickley, suddenly producing an electric
torch from his pocket and flashing it into his face. It was his form of
repartee for all he had suffered at the hands of this incomprehensible
pair. Let me say at once that it was singularly successful. Perhaps the
wisdom of the ages in which Oro flourished had overlooked so small a
matter as electric torches, or perhaps he did not expect to meet with
them in these degenerate days. At any rate for the first and last time
in my intercourse with him I saw the god, or lord--the native word bears
either meaning--Oro genuinely astonished. He started and stepped back,
and for a moment or two seemed a little frightened. Then muttering
something as to the cleverness of this light-producing instrument,
he motioned to his daughter to take it from Bickley and hold it in a
certain position. She obeyed, and in its illumination he began to study
the engraved plates, holding one of them in either hand.
After a while he gave me one of the plates to hold, and with his
disengaged hand pointed successively to the constellation of Orion, to
the stars Castor, Pollux, Aldebaran, Rigel, the Pleiades, Sirius and
others which with my very limited knowledge I could not recognise
offhand. Then on the plate which I held, he showed us those same stars
and constellations, checking them one by one.
Then he remarked very quietly that all was in order, and handing the
plate he held to Yva, said:
"The calculations made so long ago are correct, nor have the stars
varied in their proper motions during what is after all but an hour of
time. If you, Stranger, who, I understand, are named Humphrey, should
be, as I gather, a heaven-master, naturally you will ask me how I could
fix an exact date by the stars without an error of, let us say, from
five to ten thousand years. I answer you that by the proper motion of
the stars alone it would have been difficult. Therefore I remember that
in order to be exact, I calculated the future conjunctions of those two
planets," and he pointed to Saturn and Jupiter. "Finding that one of
these occurred near yonder star," and he indicated the bright orb,
Spica, "at a certain time, I determined that then I would awake. Behold!
There are the stars as I engraved them from my foreknowledge, upon this
chart, and there those two great planets hang in conjunction. Daughter
Yva, my wisdom has not failed me. This world of ours has travelled round
the sun neither less nor more than two hundred and fifty thousand times
since we laid ourselves down to sleep. It is written here, and yonder,"
and he pointed, first to the engraved plates and then to the vast
expanse of the starlit heavens.
Awe fell on me; I think that even Bickley and Bastin were awed, at any
rate for the moment. It was a terrible thing to look on a being, to all
appearance more or less human, who alleged that he had been asleep
for two hundred and fifty thousand years, and proceeded to prove it by
certain ancient star charts. Of course at the time I could not check
those charts, lacking the necessary knowledge, but I have done so since
and found that they are quite accurate. However this made no difference,
since the circumstances and something in his manner convinced me that he
spoke the absolute truth.
He and his daughter had been asleep for two hundred and fifty thousand
years. Oh! Heavens, for two hundred and fifty thousand years!
Next: Oro Speaks And Bastin Argues