A Voyage to Arcturus.

By David Lindsay

 

 

 

 

1          The Seance

2          In the Street

3          Starkness

4          The Voice

5          The Night of Departure

6          Joiwind

7          Panawe

8          The Lusion Plain

9          Oceaxe

10        Tydomin

11        On Disscourn

12        Spadevil

13        The Wombflash Forest

14        Polecrab

15        Swaylone's Island

16        Leehallfae

17        Corpang

18        Haunte

19        Sullenbode

20       Barey

21        Muspel

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

THE SEANCE

 

On a march evening, at eight o'clock, Backhouse, the medium - a fast

- rising star in the psychic world - was ushered into the study at

Prolands, the Hampstead residence of Montague Faull.  The room was

illuminated only by the light of a blazing fire.  The host, eying him

with indolent curiosity, got up, and the usual conventional greetings

were exchanged.  Having indicated an easy chair before the fire to

his guest, the South American merchant sank back again into his own.

The electric light was switched on.  Faull's prominent, clear - cut

features, metallic - looking skin, and general air of bored

impassiveness, did not seem greatly to impress the medium, who was

accustomed to regard men from a special angle.  Backhouse, on the

contrary, was a novelty to the merchant.  As he tranquilly studied

him through half closed lids and the smoke of a cigar, he wondered

how this little, thickset person with the pointed beard contrived to

remain so fresh and sane in appearance, in view of the morbid nature

of his occupation.

 

"Do you smoke?" drawled Faull, by way of starting the Conversation.

"No?  Then will you take a drink?"

 

"Not at present, I thank you."

 

A pause.

 

"Everything is satisfactory?  The materialisation will take place?"

 

"I see no reason to doubt it."

 

"That's good, for I would not like my guests to be disappointed. I

have your check written out in my pocket."

 

"Afterward will do quite well."

 

"Nine o'clock was the time specified, I believe?"

 

"I fancy so."

 

The conversation continued to flag.  Faull sprawled in his chair, and

remained apathetic.

 

"Would you care to hear what arrangements I have made?"

 

"I am unaware that any are necessary, beyond chairs for your guests."

 

"I mean the decoration of the seance room, the music, and so forth."

 

Backhouse stared at his host.  "But this is not a theatrical

performance."

 

"That's correct.  Perhaps I ought to explain.. .. There will be

ladies present, and ladies, you know, are aesthetically inclined."

 

"In that case I have no objection.  I only hope they will enjoy the

performance to the end."

 

He spoke rather dryly.

 

"Well, that's all right, then," said Faull.  Flicking his cigar into

the fire, he got up and helped himself to whisky.

 

"Will you come and see the room?"

 

"Thank you, no. I prefer to have nothing to do with it till the time

arrives."

 

"Then let's go to see my sister, Mrs. Jameson, who is in the drawing

room.  She sometimes does me the kindness to act as my hostess, as I

am unmarried."

 

"I will be delighted," said Backhouse coldly.

 

They found the lady alone, sitting by the open pianoforte in a

pensive attitude.  She had been playing Scriabin and was overcome.

The medium took in her small, tight, patrician features and porcelain

- like hands, and wondered how Faull came by such a sister.  She

received him bravely, with just a shade of quiet emotion.  He was

used to such receptions at the hands of the sex, and knew well how to

respond to them.

 

"What amazes me," she half whispered, after ten minutes of graceful,

hollow conversation, "is, if you must know it, not so much the

manifestation itself - though that will surely be wonderful - as your

assurance that it will take place.  Tell me the grounds of your

confidence."

 

"I dream with open eyes," he answered, looking around at the door,

"and others see my dreams.  That is all."

 

"But that's beautiful," responded Mrs. Jameson.  She smiled rather

absently, for the first guest had just entered.

 

It was Kent - Smith, the ex - magistrate, celebrated for his shrewd

judicial humour, which, however, he had the good sense not to attempt

to carry into private life.  Although well on the wrong side of

seventy, his eyes were still disconcertingly bright.  With the

selective skill of an old man, he immediately settled himself in the

most comfortable of many comfortable chairs.

 

"So we are to see wonders tonight?"

 

"Fresh material for your autobiography," remarked Faull.

 

"Ah, you should not have mentioned my unfortunate book.  An old

public servant is merely amusing himself in his retirement, Mr.

Backhouse.  You have no cause for alarm - I have studied in the

school of discretion."

 

"I am not alarmed.  There can be no possible objection to your

publishing whatever you please."

 

"You are most kind," said the old man, with a cunning smile.

 

"Trent is not coming tonight," remarked Mrs. Jameson, throwing a

curious little glance at her brother.

 

"I never thought he would.  It's not in his line."

 

"Mrs.  Trent, you must understand," she went on, addressing the ex-

magistrate, "has placed us all under a debt of gratitude.  She has

decorated the old lounge hall upstairs most beautifully, and has

secured the services of the sweetest little orchestra."

 

"But this is Roman magnificence."

 

"Backhouse thinks the spirits should be treated with more deference,"

laughed Faull.

 

"Surely, Mr. Backhouse - a poetic environment ..

 

"Pardon me. I am a simple man, and always prefer to reduce things to

elemental simplicity. I raise no opposition, but I express my

opinion.  Nature is one thing, and art is another."

 

"And I am not sure that I don't agree with you," said the ex-

magistrate.  "An occasion like this ought to be simple, to guard

against the possibility of deception - if you will forgive my

bluntness, Mr. Backhouse."

 

"We shall sit in full light," replied Backhouse, "and every

opportunity will be given to all to inspect the room.  I shall also

ask you to submit me to a personal examination."

 

A rather embarrassed silence followed.  It was broken by the arrival

of two more guests, who entered together.  These were Prior, the

prosperous City coffee importer, and Lang, the stockjobber, well

known in his own circle as an amateur prestidigitator.  Backhouse was

slightly acquainted with the latter.  Prior, perfuming the room with

the faint odour of wine and tobacco smoke, tried to introduce an

atmosphere of joviality into the proceedings.  Finding that no one

seconded his efforts, however, he shortly subsided and fell to

examining the water colours on the walls.  Lang, tall, thin, and

growing bald, said little, but stared at Backhouse a good deal.

 

Coffee, liqueurs, and cigarettes were now brought in.  Everyone

partook, except Lang and the medium.  At the same moment, Professor

Halbert was announced.  He was the eminent psychologist, the author

and lecturer on crime, insanity, genius, and so forth, considered in

their mental aspects.  His presence at such a gathering somewhat

mystified the other guests, but all felt as if the object of their

meeting had immediately acquired additional solemnity.  He was small,

meagre-looking, and mild in manner, but was probably the most

stubborn-brained of all that mixed company.  Completely ignoring the

medium, he at once sat down beside Kent-Smith, with whom he began to

exchange remarks.

 

At a few minutes past the appointed hour Mrs. Trent entered,

unannounced.  She was a woman of about twenty-eight.  She had a

white, demure, saintlike face, smooth black hair, and lips so crimson

and full that they seemed to be bursting with blood.  Her tall,

graceful body was most expensively attired.  Kisses were exchanged

between her and Mrs. Jameson.  She bowed to the rest of the assembly,

and stole a half glance and a smile at Faull.  The latter gave her a

queer look, and Backhouse, who lost nothing, saw the concealed

barbarian in the complacent gleam of his eye.  She refused the

refreshment that was offered her, and Faull proposed that, as

everyone had now arrived, they should adjourn to the lounge hall.

 

Mrs. Trent held up a slender palm.  "Did you, or did you not, give me

carte blanche, Montague?"

 

"Of course I did," said Faull, laughing.  "But what's the matter?"

 

"Perhaps I have been rather presumptuous. I don't know.  I have

invited a couple of friends to join us.  No, no one knows them.. ..

The two most extraordinary individuals you ever saw.  And mediums, I

am sure."

 

"It sounds very mysterious.  Who are these conspirators?"

 

"At least tell us their names, you provoking girl," put in Mrs.

Jameson.

 

"One rejoices in the name of Maskull, and the other in that of

Nightspore.  That's nearly all that I know about them, so don't

overwhelm me with, any more questions."

 

"But where did you pick them up?  You must have picked them up

somewhere."

 

"But this is a cross - examination.  Have I sinned again convention?

I swear I will tell you not another word about them.  They will be

here directly, and then I will deliver them to your tender mercy."

 

"I don't know them," said Faull, "and nobody else seems to, but, of

course, we will all be very pleased to have them.... Shall we wait,

or what?"

 

"I said nine, and it's past that now.  It's quite possible they may

not turn up after all.... Anyway, don't wait."

 

"I would prefer to start at once," said Backhouse.

 

The lounge, a lofty room, forty feet long by twenty wide, had been

divided for the occasion into two equal parts by a heavy brocade

curtain drawn across the middle.  The far end was thus concealed.

The nearer half had been converted into an auditorium by a crescent

of armchairs. There was no other furniture.  A large fire was burning

halfway along the wall, between the chairbacks and the door.  The

room was brilliantly lighted by electric bracket lamps.  A sumptuous

carpet covered the floor.

 

Having settled his guests in their seats, Faull stepped up to the

curtain and flung it aside.  A replica, or nearly so, of the Drury

Lane presentation of the temple scene in The Magic Flute was then

exposed to view: the gloomy, massive architecture of the interior,

the glowing sky above it in the background, and, silhouetted against

the latter, the gigantic seated statue of the Pharaoh.  A

fantastically carved wooden couch lay before the pedestal of the

statue.  Near the curtain, obliquely placed to the auditorium, was a

plain oak armchair, for the use of the medium.

 

Many of those present felt privately that the setting was quite

inappropriate to the occasion and savoured rather unpleasantly of

ostentation.  Backhouse in particular seemed put out.  The usual

compliments, however, were showered on Mrs. Trent as the deviser of

so remarkable a theatre.  Faull invited his friends to step forward

and examine the apartment as minutely as they might desire.  Prior

and Lang were the only ones to accept.  The former wandered about

among the pasteboard scenery, whistling to himself and occasionally

tapping a part of it with his knuckles.  Lang, who was in his

element, ignored the rest of his party and commenced a patient,

systematic search, on his own account, for secret apparatus.  Faull

and Mrs. Trent stood in a corner of the temple, talking together in

low tones; while Mrs. Jameson, pretending to hold Backhouse in

conversation, watched them as only a deeply interested woman knows

how to watch.

 

Lang, to his own disgust, having failed to find anything of a

suspicious nature, the medium now requested that his own clothing

should be searched.

 

"All these precautions are quite needless and beside the matter in

hand, as you will immediately see for yourselves.  My reputation

demands, however, that other people who are not present would not be

able to say afterward that trickery has been resorted to."

 

To Lang again fell the ungrateful task of investigating pockets and

sleeves.  Within a few minutes he expressed himself satisfied that

nothing mechanical was in Backhouse's possession.  The guests

reseated themselves.  Faull ordered two more chairs to be brought for

Mrs. Trent's friends, who, however, had not yet arrived.  He then

pressed an electric bell, and took his own seat.

 

The signal was for the hidden orchestra to begin playing.  A murmur

of surprise passed through the audience as, without previous warning,

the beautiful and solemn strains of Mozart's "temple" music pulsated

through the air.  The expectation of everyone was raised, while,

beneath her pallor and composure, it could be seen that Mrs. Trent

was deeply moved.  It was evident that aesthetically she was by far

the most important person present.  Faull watched her, with his face

sunk on his chest, sprawling as usual.

 

Backhouse stood up, with one hand on the back of his chair, and began

speaking.  The music instantly sank to pianissimo, and remained so

for as long as he was on his legs.

 

"Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness a materialisation.

That means you will see something appear in space that was not

previously there.  At first it will appear as a vaporous form, but

finally it will be a solid body, which anyone present may feel and

handle - and, for example, shake hands with.  For this body will be

in the human shape.  It will be a real man or woman - which, I can't

say - but a man or woman without known antecedents.  If, however, you

demand from me an explanation of the origin of this materialised form

- where it comes from, whence the atoms and molecules composing its

tissues are derived - I am unable to satisfy you. I am about to

produce the phenomenon; if anyone can explain it to me afterward, I

shall be very grateful.... That is all I have to say."

 

He resumed his seat, half turning his back on the assembly, and

paused for a moment before beginning his task.

 

It was precisely at this minute that the manservant opened the door

and announced in a subdued but distinct voice: "Mr. Maskull, Mr.

Nightspore."

 

Everyone turned round.  Faull rose to welcome the late arrivals.

Backhouse also stood up, and stared hard at them.

 

The two strangers remained standing by the door, which was closed

quietly behind them.  They seemed to be waiting for the mild

sensation caused by their appearance to subside before advancing into

the room.  Maskull was a kind of giant, but of broader and more

robust physique than most giants.  He wore a full beard.  His

features were thick and heavy, coarsely modelled, like those of a

wooden carving; but his eyes, small and black, sparkled with the

fires of intelligence and audacity.  His hair was short, black, and

bristling.  Nightspore was of middle height, but so tough - looking

that he appeared to be trained out of all human frailties and

susceptibilities.  His hairless face seemed consumed by an intense

spiritual hunger, and his eyes were wild and distant.  Both men were

dressed in tweeds.

 

Before any words were spoken, a loud and terrible crash of falling

masonry caused the assembled party to start up from their chairs in

consternation.  It sounded as if the entire upper part of the

building had collapsed.  Faull sprang to the door, and called to the

servant to say what was happening.  The man had to be questioned

twice before he gathered what was required of him.  He said he had

heard nothing.  In obedience to his master's order, he went upstairs.

Nothing, however, was amiss there, neither had the maids heard

anything.

 

In the meantime Backhouse, who almost alone of those assembled had

preserved his sangfroid, went straight up to Nightspore, who stood

gnawing his nails.

 

"Perhaps you can explain it, sir?"

 

"It was supernatural," said Nightspore, in a harsh, muffled voice,

turning away from his questioner.

 

"I guessed so.  It is a familiar phenomenon, but I have never heard

it so loud."

 

He then went among the guests, reassuring them.  By degrees they

settled down, but it was observable that their former easy and good -

humoured interest in the proceedings was now changed to strained

watchfulness.  Maskull and Nightspore took the places allotted to

them.  Mrs. Trent kept stealing uneasy glances at them.  Throughout

the entire incident, Mozart's hymn continued to be played. The

orchestra also had heard nothing.

 

Backhouse now entered on his task.  It was one that began to be

familiar to him, and he had no anxiety about the result.  It was not

possible to effect the materialisation by mere concentration of will,

or the exercise of any faculty; otherwise many people could have done

what he had engaged himself to do.  His nature was phenomenal  -  the

dividing wall between himself and the spiritual world was broken in

many places.  Through the gaps in his mind the inhabitants of the

invisible, when he summoned them, passed for a moment timidly and

awfully into the solid, coloured universe.... He could not say how it

was brought about.... The experience was a rough one for the body,

and many such struggles would lead to insanity and early death.  That

is why Backhouse was stern and abrupt in his manner.  The coarse,

clumsy suspicion of some of the witnesses, the frivolous aestheticism

of others, were equally obnoxious to his grim, bursting heart; but he

was obliged to live, and, to pay his way, must put up with these

impertinences.

 

He sat down facing the wooden couch.  His eyes remained open but

seemed to look inward.  His cheeks paled, and he became noticeably

thinner.  The spectators almost forgot to breathe.  The more

sensitive among them began to feel, or imagine, strange presences all

around them.  Maskull's eyes glittered with anticipation, and his

brows went up and down, but Nightspore appeared bored.

 

After a long ten minutes the pedestal of the statue was seen to

become slightly blurred, as though an intervening mist were rising

from the ground.  This slowly developed into a visible cloud, coiling

hither and thither, and constantly changing shape.  The professor

half rose, and held his glasses with one hand further forward on the

bridge of his nose.

 

By slow stages the cloud acquired the dimensions and approximate

outline of an adult human body, although all was still vague and

blurred.  It hovered lightly in the air, a foot or so above the

couch.  Backhouse looked haggard and ghastly.  Mrs Jameson quietly

fainted in her chair, but she was unnoticed, and presently revived.

The apparition now settled down upon the couch, and at the moment of

doing so seemed suddenly to grow dark. solid, and manlike.  Many of

the guests were as pale as the medium himself, but Faull preserved

his stoical apathy, and glanced once or twice at Mrs. Trent.  She was

staring straight at the couch, and was twisting a little lace

handkerchief through the different fingers of her hand.  The music

went on playing.

 

The figure was by this time unmistakably that of a man lying down.

The face focused itself into distinctness.  The body was draped in a

sort of shroud, but the features were those of a young man.  One

smooth hand fell over, nearly touching the floor, white and

motionless.  The weaker spirits of the company stared at the vision

in sick horror; the. rest were grave and perplexed.  The seeming man

was dead, but somehow it did not appear like a death succeeding life,

but like a death preliminary to life.  All felt that he might sit up

at any minute.

 

"Stop that music!" muttered Backhouse, tottering from his chair and

facing the party.  Faull touched the bell.  A few more bars sounded,

and then total silence ensued.

 

"Anyone who wants to may approach the couch," said Backhouse with

difficulty.

 

Lang at once advanced, and stared awestruck at the supernatural

youth.

 

"You are at liberty to touch," said the medium.

 

But Lang did not venture to, nor did any of the others, who one by

one stole up to the couch - until it came to Faull's turn.  He looked

straight at Mrs. Trent, who seemed frightened and disgusted at the

spectacle before her, and then not only touched the apparition but

suddenly grasped the drooping hand in his own and gave it a powerful

squeeze.  Mrs. Trent gave a low scream.  The ghostly visitor opened

his eyes, looked at Faull strangely, and sat up on the couch.  A

cryptic smile started playing over his mouth.  Faull looked at his

hand; a feeling of intense pleasure passed through his body.

 

Maskull caught Mrs. Jameson in his arms; she was attacked by another

spell of faintness.  Mrs. Trent ran forward, and led her out of the

room.  Neither of them returned.

 

The phantom body now stood upright, looking about him, still with his

peculiar smile.  Prior suddenly felt sick, and went out.  The other

men more or less hung together, for the sake of human society, but

Nightspore paced up and down, like a man weary and impatient, while

Maskull attempted to interrogate the youth.  The apparition watched

him with a baffling expression, but did not answer.  Backhouse was

sitting apart, his face buried in his hands.

 

It was at this moment that the door was burst open violently, and a

stranger, unannounced, half leaped, half strode a few yards into the

room, and then stopped.  None of Faull's friends had ever seen him

before.  He was a thick, shortish man, with surprising muscular

development and a head far too large in proportion to his body.  His

beardless yellow face indicated, as a first impression, a mixture of

sagacity, brutality, and humour.

 

"Aha-i, gentlemen!" he called out loudly.  His voice was piercing,

and oddly disagreeable to the ear.  "So we have a little visitor

here."

 

Nightspore turned his back, but everyone else stared at the intruder

in astonishment.  He took another few steps forward, which brought

him to the edge of the theatre.

 

"May I ask, sir, how I come to have the honour of being your host?"

asked Faull sullenly.  He thought that the evening was not proceeding

as smoothly as he had anticipated.

 

The newcomer looked at him for a second, and then broke into a great,

roaring guffaw.  He thumped Faull on the back playfully - but the

play was rather rough, for the victim was sent staggering against the

wall before he could recover his balance.

 

"Good evening, my host!"

 

"And good evening to you too, my lad!" he went on, addressing the

supernatural youth, who was now beginning to wander about the room,

in apparent unconsciousness of his surroundings.  "I have seen

someone very like you before, I think."

 

There was no response.

 

The intruder thrust his head almost up to the phantom's face.  "You

have no right here, as you know."

 

The shape looked back at him with a smile full of significance,

which, however, no one could understand.

 

"Be careful what you are doing," said Backhouse quickly.

 

"What's the matter, spirit usher?"

 

"I don't know who you are, but if you use physical violence toward

that, as you seem inclined to do, the consequences may prove very

unpleasant."

 

"And without pleasure our evening would be spoiled, wouldn't it, my

little mercenary friend?"

 

Humour vanished from his face, like sunlight from a landscape,

leaving it hard and rocky.  Before anyone realised what he was doing,

he encircled the soft, white neck of the materialised shape with his

hairy hands and, with a double turn, twisted it completely round.  A

faint, unearthly shriek sounded, and the body fell in a heap to the

floor.  Its face was uppermost.  The guests were unutterably shocked

to observe that its expression had changed from the mysterious but

fascinating smile to a vulgar, sordid, bestial grin, which cast a

cold shadow of moral nastiness into every heart.  The transformation

was accompanied by a sickening stench of the graveyard.

 

The features faded rapidly away, the body lost its consistence,

passing from the solid to the shadowy condition, and, before two

minutes had elapsed, the spirit - form had entirely disappeared.

 

The short stranger turned and confronted the party, with a long, loud

laugh, like nothing in nature.

 

The professor talked excitedly to Kent - Smith in low tones.  Faull

beckoned Backhouse behind a wing of scenery, and handed him his check

without a word.  The medium put it in his pocket, buttoned his coat,

and walked out of the room.  Lang followed him, in order to get a

drink.

 

The stranger poked his face up into Maskull's.

 

"Well, giant, what do you think of it all?  Wouldn't you like to see

the land where this sort of fruit grows wild?"

 

"What sort of fruit?"

 

"That specimen goblin."

 

Maskull waved him away with his huge hand.  "Who are you, and how did

you come here?"

 

"Call up your friend.  Perhaps he may recognise me." Nightspore had

moved a chair to the fire, and was watching the embers with a set,

fanatical expression.

 

"Let Krag come to me, if he wants me," he said, in his strange voice.

 

"You see, he does know me," uttered Krag, with a humorous look.

Walking over to Nightspore, he put a hand on the back of his chair.

 

"Still the same old gnawing hunger?"

 

"What is doing these days?" demanded Nightspore disdainfully, without

altering his attitude.

 

"Surtur has gone, and we are to follow him."

 

"How do you two come to know each other, and of whom are you

speaking?" asked Maskull, looking from one to the other in

perplexity.

 

"Krag has something for us.  Let us go outside," replied Nightspore.

He got up, and glanced over his shoulder. Maskull, following the

direction of his eye, observed that the few remaining men were

watching their little group attentively.

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

IN THE STREET

 

The three men gathered in the street outside the house.  The night

was slightly frosty, but particularly clear, with an east wind

blowing.  The multitude of blazing stars caused the sky to appear

like a vast scroll of hieroglyphic symbols.  Maskull felt oddly

excited; he had a sense that something extraordinary was about to

happen "What brought you to this house tonight, Krag, and what made

you do what you did?  How are we understand that apparition?"

 

"That must have been Crystalman's expression on face," muttered

Nightspore.

 

"We have discussed that, haven't we, Maskull?  Maskull is anxious to

behold that rare fruit in its native wilds."

 

Maskull looked at Krag carefully, trying to analyse his own feelings

toward him.  He was distinctly repelled by the man's personality, yet

side by side with this aversion a savage, living energy seemed to

spring up in his heart that in some strange fashion was attributable

to Krag.

 

"Why do you insist on this simile?" he asked.

 

"Because it is apropos.  Nightspore's quite right.  That was

Crystalman's face, and we are going to Crystalman's country."

 

"And where is this mysterious country?"

 

"Tormance."

 

"That's a quaint name.  But where is it?"

 

Krag grinned, showing his yellow teeth in the light of the street

lamp.

 

"It is the residential suburb of Arcturus."

 

"What is he talking about, Nightspore? .. . Do you mean the star of

that name?" he went on, to Krag.

 

"Which you have in front of you at this very minute" said Krag,

pointing a thick finger toward the brightest star in the south-

eastern sky.  "There you see Arcturus, and Tormance is its one

inhabited planet."

 

Maskull looked at the heavy, gleaning star, and again at Krag.  Then

he pulled out a pipe, and began to fill it.

 

"You must have cultivated a new form of humour, Krag.

"I am glad if I can amuse you, Maskull, if only for a few days."

 

"I meant tor ask you - how do you know my name?"

 

"It would be odd if I didn't, seeing that I only came here on your

account.  As a matter of fact, Nightspore and I are old friends."

 

Maskull paused with his suspended match.  "You came here on my

account?"

 

"Surely.  On your account and Nightspore's.  We three are to be

fellow travellers."

 

Maskull now lit his pipe and puffed away coolly for a few moments.

 

"I'm sorry, Krag, but I must assume you are mad."

 

Krag threw his head back, and gave a scraping laugh.  "Am I mad,

Nightspore?"

 

"Has Surtur gone to Tormance?" ejaculated Nightspore in a strangled

voice, fixing his eyes on Krag's face.

 

"Yes, and he requires that we follow him at once."

 

Maskull's heart began to beat strangely.  It all sounded to him like

a dream conversation.

 

"And since how long, Krag, have I been required to do things by a

total stranger....  Besides, who is this individual?"

 

"Krag's chief," said Nightspore, turning his head away.

 

"The riddle is too elaborate for me. I give up."

 

"You are looking for mysteries," said Krag, "so naturally you are

finding them.  Try and simplify your ideas, my friend.  The affair is

plain and serious."

 

Maskull stared hard at him and smoked rapidly.

 

"Where have you come from now?" demanded Nightspore suddenly.

 

"From the old observatory at Starkness.... Have you heard of the

famous Starkness Observatory, Maskull?"

 

"No.  Where is it?"

 

"On the north-east coast of Scotland.  Curious discoveries are made

there from time to time."

 

"As, for example, how to make voyages to the stars.  So this Surtur

turns out to be an astronomer.  And you too, presumably?"

 

Krag grinned again.  "How long will it take you to wind up your

affairs?  When can you be ready to start?"

 

"You are too considerate," said Maskull, laughing outright.  "I was

beginning to fear that I would be hauled away at once.. .. However, I

have neither wife, land, nor profession, so there's nothing to wait

for.... What is the itinerary?"

 

"You are a fortunate man.  A bold, daring heart, and no

encumbrances." Krag's features became suddenly grave and rigid.

"Don't be a fool, and refuse a gift of luck.  A gift declined is not

offered a second time."

 

"Krag," replied Maskull simply, returning his pipe to his pocket.  "I

ask you to put yourself in my place.  Even if were a man sick for

adventures, how could I listen seriously to such an insane

proposition as this?  What do I know about you, or your past record?

You may be a practical joker, or you may have come out of a madhouse

-  I know nothing about it.  If you claim to be an exceptional man,

and want my cooperation, you must offer me exceptional proofs."

 

"And what proofs would you consider adequate, Maskull?"

 

As he spoke he gripped Maskull's arm.  A sharp, chilling pain

immediately passed through the latter's body and at the same moment

his brain caught fire.  A light burst in upon him like the rising of

the sun.  He asked himself for the first time if this fantastic

conversation could by any chance refer to real things.

 

"Listen, Krag," he said slowly, while peculiar images and conceptions

started to travel in rich disorder through his mind.  "You talk about

a certain journey.  Well, if that journey were a possible one, and I

were given the chance of making it, I would be willing never to come

back.  For twenty - four hours on that Arcturian planet, I would give

my life.  That is my attitude toward that journey.... Now prove to me

that you're not talking nonsense.  Produce your credentials."

 

Krag stared at him all the time he was speaking, his face gradually

resuming its jesting expression.

 

"Oh, you will get your twenty - four hours, and perhaps longer, but

not much longer.  You're an audacious fellow, Maskull, but this trip

will prove a little strenuous, even for you.... And so, like the

unbelievers of old, you want a sign from heaven?"

 

Maskull frowned.  "But the whole thing is ridiculous.  Our brains are

overexcited by what took place in there.  Let us go home, and sleep

it off."

 

Krag detained him with one hand, while groping in his breast pocket

with the other.  He presently fished out what resembled a small

folding lens.  The diameter of the glass did not exceed two inches.

 

"First take a peep at Arcturus through this, Maskull.  It may serve

as a provisional sign.  It's the best I can do, unfortunately. I am

not a travelling magician.. .. Be very careful not to drop it.  It's

somewhat heavy."

 

Maskull took the lens in his hand, struggled with it for a minute,

and then looked at Krag in amazement.  The little object weighed at

least twenty pounds, though it was not much bigger than a crown

piece.

 

"What stuff can this be, Krag?"

 

"Look through it, my good friend.  That's what I gave it to you for."

 

Maskull held it up with difficulty, directed it toward the gleaming

Arcturus, and snatched as long and as steady a glance at the star as

the muscles of his arm would permit.  What he saw was this.  The

star, which to the naked eye appeared as a single yellow point of

light, now became clearly split into two bright but minute suns, the

larger of which was still yellow, while its smaller companion was a

beautiful blue.  But this was not all.  Apparently circulating around

the yellow sun was a comparatively small and hardly distinguishable

satellite, which seemed to shine, not by its own, but by reflected

light.... Maskull lowered and raised his arm repeatedly.  The same

spectacle revealed itself again and again, but he was able to see

nothing else.  Then he passed back the lens to Krag, without a word,

and stood chewing his underlip.

 

"You take a glimpse too," scraped Krag, proffering the glass to

Nightspore.

 

Nightspore turned his back and began to pace up an down.  Krag

laughed sardonically, and returned the lens t his pocket.  "Well,

Maskull, are you satisfied?"

 

"Arcturus, then, is a double sun.  And is that third point the planet

Tormance?"

 

"Our future home, Maskull."

 

Maskull continued to ponder.  "You inquire if I a satisfied. I don't

know, Krag.  It's miraculous, and that' all I can say about it....

But I'm satisfied of one thing There must be very wonderful

astronomers at Starkness and if you invite me to your observatory I

will surely come."

 

"I do invite you.  We set off from there."

 

"And you, Nightspore?" demanded Maskull.

 

"The journey has to be made," answered his friend in indistinct

tones, "though I don't see what will come of it."

 

Krag shot a penetrating glance at him.  "More remarkable adventures

than this would need to be arranged before we could excite

Nightspore."

 

"Yet he is coming."

 

"But not con amore.  He is coming merely to bear you company."

 

Maskull again sought the heavy, sombre star, gleaming in solitary

might, in the south-eastern heavens, and, as he gazed, his heart

swelled with grand and painful longings, for which, however, he was

unable to account to his own intellect.  He felt that his destiny was

in some way bound up with this gigantic, far - distant sun.  But

still he did not dare to admit to himself Krag's seriousness.

 

He heard his parting remarks in deep abstraction, and only after the

lapse of several minutes, when, alone with Nightspore, did he realise

that they referred to such mundane matters as travelling routes and

times of trains.

 

"Does Krag travel north with us, Nightspore? I didn't catch that."

 

"No.  We go on first, and he joins us at Starkness on the evening of

the day after tomorrow."

 

Maskull remained thoughtful.  "What am I to think of that man?"

 

"For your information," replied Nightspore wearily, "I have never

known him to lie."

 

 

 

Chapter 3

 

STARKNESS

 

A couple of days later, at two o'clock in the afternoon, Maskull and

Nightspore arrived at Starkness Observatory, having covered the seven

miles from Haillar Station on foot.  The road, very wild and lonely,

ran for the greater part of the way near the edge of rather lofty

cliffs, within sight of the North Sea.  The sun shone, but a brisk

cast wind was blowing and the air was salt and cold.  The dark green

waves were flecked with white.  Through

out the walk, they were accompanied by the plaintive, beautiful

crying of the gulls.

 

The observatory presented itself to their eyes as a self-contained

little community, without neighbours, and perched on the extreme end

of the land.  There were three buildings: a small, stone - built

dwelling house, a low workshop, and, about two hundred yards farther

north, a square tower of granite masonry, seventy feet in height.

 

The house and the shop were separated by an open yard, littered with

waste.  A single stone wall surrounded both, except on the side

facing the sea, where the house itself formed a continuation of the

cliff.  No one appeared.  The windows were all closed, and Maskull

could have sworn that the whole establishment was shut up and

deserted.

 

He passed through the open gate, followed by Nightspore, and knocked

vigorously at the front door.  The knocker was thick with dust and

had obviously not been used for a long time.  He put his ear to the

door, but could hear no movements inside the house.  He then tried

the handle; the door was looked.

 

They walked around the house, looking for another entrance, but there

was only the one door.

 

"This isn't promising," growled Maskull  "There's no one here... ..

Now you try the shed, while I go over to that tower."

 

Nightspore, who had not spoken half a dozen words since leaving the

train, complied in silence, and started off across the yard.  Maskull

passed out of the gate again.  When he arrived at the foot of the

tower, which stood some way back from the cliff, he found the door

heavily padlocked.  Gazing up, he saw six windows, one above the

other at equal distances, all on the cast face - that is, overlooking

the sea.  Realising that no satisfaction was to be gained here, he

came away again, still more irritated than before.  When' he rejoined

his friend, Nightspore reported that the workshop was also locked.

 

"Did we, or did we not, receive an invitation?" demanded Maskull

energetically.

 

"The house is empty," replied Nightspore, biting his nails.  "Better

break a window."

 

"I certainly don't mean to camp out till Krag condescends to come."

 

He picked up an old iron bolt from the yard and, retreating to a safe

distance, hurled it against a sash window on the ground floor.  The

lower pane was completely shattered.  Carefully avoiding the broken

glass, Maskull thrust his hand through the aperture and pushed back

the frame fastening.  A minute later they had climbed through and

were standing inside the house.

 

The room, which was a kitchen, was in an indescribably filthy and

neglected condition.  The furniture scarcely held together, broken

utensils and rubbish lay on the floor instead of on the dust heap,

everything was covered with a deep deposit of dust.  The atmosphere

was so foul that Maskull judged that no fresh air had passed into the

room for several months.  Insects were crawling on the walls.

 

They went into the other rooms on the lower floor - a scullery, a

barely furnished dining room, and a storing place for lumber.  The

same dirt, mustiness, and neglect met their eyes.  At least half a

year must have elapsed since these rooms were last touched, or even

entered.

 

"Does your faith in Krag still hold?" asked Maskull. "I confess mine

is at vanishing point.  If this affair isn't one big practical joke,

it has every promise of being one.  Krag never lived here in his

life."

 

"Come upstairs first," said Nightspore.

 

The upstairs rooms proved to consist of a library and three bedrooms.

All the windows were tightly closed, and the air was insufferable.

The beds had been slept in, evidently a long time ago, and had never

been made since.  The tumbled, discoloured bed linen actually

preserved the impressions of the sleepers.  There was no doubt that

these impressions were ancient, for all sorts of floating dirt had

accumulated on the sheets and coverlets.

 

"Who could have slept here, do you think?" interrogated Maskull.

"The observatory staff?"

 

"More likely travellers like ourselves.  They left suddenly."

 

Maskull flung the windows wide open in every room he came to, and

held his breath until he had done so.  Two of the bedrooms faced the

sea; the third, the library, the upward  - sloping moorland.  This

library was now the only room left unvisited, and unless they

discovered signs of recent occupation here Maskull made up his mind

to regard the whole business as a gigantic hoax.

 

But the library, like all the other rooms, was foul with stale air

and dust - laden.  Maskull, having flung the window up and down, fell

heavily into an armchair and looked disgustedly at his friend.

 

"Now what is your opinion of Krag?"

 

Nightspore sat on the edge of the table which stood before the

window.  "He may still have left a message for us."

 

"What message?  Why?  Do you mean in this room? - I see no message."

 

Nightspore's eyes wandered about the room, finally seeming to linger

upon a glass - fronted wall cupboard, which contained a few old

bottles on one of the shelves and nothing else.  Maskull glanced at

him and at the cupboard.  Then, without a word, he got up to examine

the bottles.

 

There were four altogether, one of which was larger than the rest.

The smaller ones were about eight inches long.  All were torpedo -

shaped, but had flattened bottoms, which enabled them to stand

upright.  Two of the smaller ones were empty and unstoppered, the

others contained a colourless liquid, and possessed queer - looking,

nozzle - like stoppers that were connected by a thin metal rod with a

catch halfway down the side of the bottle.  They were labelled, but

the labels were yellow with age and the writing was nearly

undecipherable.  Maskull carried the filled bottles with him to the

table in front of the window, in order to get better light.

Nightspore moved away to make room for him.

 

He now made out on the larger bottle the words "Solar Back Rays"; and

on the other one, after some doubt, he thought that he could

distinguish something like "Arcturian Back Rays."

 

He looked up, to stare curiously at his friend.  "Have you been here

before, Nightspore?"

 

"I guessed Krag would leave a message."

 

"Well, I don't know - it may be a message, but it means nothing to

us, or at all events to me.  What are 'back rays'?"

 

"Light that goes back to its source," muttered Nightspore.

 

"And what kind of light would that be?"

 

Nightspore seemed unwilling to answer, but, finding Maskull's eyes

still fixed on him, he brought out: "Unless light pulled, as well as

pushed, how would flowers contrive to twist their heads around after

the sun?"

 

"I don't know.  But the point is, what are these bottles for?"

 

While he was still talking, with his hand on the smaller bottle, the

other, which was lying on its side, accidentally rolled over in such

a manner that the metal caught against the table.  He made a movement

to stop it, his hand was actually descending, when - the bottle

suddenly disappeared before his eyes.  It had not rolled off the

table, but had really vanished - it was nowhere at all.

 

Maskull stared at the table.  After a minute he raised his brows, and

turned to Nightspore with a smile.  "The message grows more

intricate."

 

Nightspore looked bored.  "The valve became unfastened.  The contents

have escaped through the open window toward the sun, carrying the

bottle with them.  But the bottle will be burned up by the earth's

atmosphere, and the contents will dissipate, and will not reach the

sun."

 

Maskull listened attentively, and his smile faded.  "Does anything

prevent us from experimenting with this other bottle?"

 

"Replace it in the cupboard," said Nightspore.  "Arcturus is still

below the horizon, and you would succeed only in wrecking the house."

 

Maskull remained standing before the window, pensively gazing out at

the sunlit moors.

 

"Krag treats me like a child," he remarked presently.  "And perhaps I

really am a child.... My cynicism must seem most amusing to Krag.

But why does he leave me to find out all this by myself - for I don't

include you, Nightspore.... But what time will Krag be here?"

 

"Not before dark, I expect," his friend replied.

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

THE VOICE

 

It was by this time past three o'clock.  Feeling hungry, for they had

eaten nothing since early morning, Maskull went downstairs to forage,

but without much hope of finding anything in the shape of food.  In a

safe in the kitchen he discovered a bag of mouldy oatmeal, which was

untouchable, a quantity of quite good tea in an airtight caddy, and

an unopened can of ox tongue.  Best of all, in the dining - room

cupboard he came across an uncorked bottle of first - class Scotch

whisky.  He at once made preparations for a scratch meal.

 

A pump in the yard ran clear after a good deal of hard working at it,

and he washed out and filled the antique kettle.  For firewood, one

of the kitchen chairs was broken up with a chopper.  The light, dusty

wood made a good blaze in the grate, the kettle was boiled, and cups

were procured and washed.  Ten minutes later the friends were dining

in the library.

 

Nightspore ate and drank little, but Maskull sat down with good

appetite.  There being no milk, whisky took the place of it; the

nearly black tea was mixed with an equal quantity of the spirit.  Of

this concoction Maskull drank cup after cup, and long after the

tongue had disappeared he was still imbibing.

 

Nightspore looked at him queerly.  "Do you intend to finish the

bottle before Krag comes?"

 

"Krag won't want any, and one must do something.  I feel restless."

 

"Let us take a look at the country."

 

The cup, which was on its way to Maskull's lips, remained poised in

the air.  "Have you anything in view, Nightspore?"

 

"Let us walk out to the Gap of Sorgie."

 

"What's that?"

 

"A showplace," answered Nightspore, biting his lip.

 

Maskull finished off the cup, and rose to his feet.  "Walking is

better than soaking at any time, and especially on a day like

this.... How far is it?'

 

"Three or four miles each way."

 

"You probably mean something," said Maskull, "for I'm beginning to

regard you as a second Krag.  But if so,

so much the better. I am growing nervous, and need incidents."

 

They left the house by the door, which they left ajar, and

immediately found themselves again on the moorland road that had

brought them from Haillar.  This time they continued along it, past

the tower.

 

Maskull, as they went by, regarded the erection with puzzled

interest.  "What is that tower, Nightspore?"

 

"We sail from the platform on the top."

 

"Tonight?" - throwing him a quick look.

 

"Yes."

 

Maskull smiled, but his eyes were grave.  "Then we are looking at the

gateway of Arcturus, and Krag is now travelling north to unlock it."

 

"You no longer think it impossible, I fancy," mumbled Nightspore.

 

After a mile or two, the road parted from the sea coast and swerved

sharply inland, across the hills.  With Nightspore as guide, they

left it and took to the grass.  A faint sheep path marked the way

along the cliff edge for some distance, but at the end of another

mile it vanished.  The two men then had some rough walking up and

down hillsides and across deep gullies.  The sun disappeared behind

the hills, and twilight imperceptibly came on.  They soon reached a

spot where further progress appeared impossible.  The buttress of a

mountain descended at a steep angle to the very edge of the cliff,

forming an impassable slope of slippery grass.  Maskull halted,

stroked his beard, and wondered what the next step was to be.

 

"There's a little scrambling here," said Nightspore.  "We are both

used to climbing, and there is not much in it."

He indicated a narrow ledge, winding along the face of the precipice

a few yards beneath where they were standing.  It averaged from

fifteen to thirty inches in width.  Without waiting for Maskull's

consent to the undertaking, he instantly swung himself down and

started walking along this ledge at a rapid pace.  Maskull, seeing

that there was no help for it, followed him.  The shelf did not

extend for above a quarter of a mile, but its passage was somewhat

unnerving; there was a sheer drop to the sea, four hundred feet

below.  In a few places they had to sidle along without placing one

foot before another.  The sound of the breakers came up to them in a

low, threatening roar.

 

Upon rounding a corner, the ledge broadened out into a fair - sized

platform of rock and came to a sudden end.  A narrow inlet of the sea

separated them from the continuation of the cliffs beyond.

 

"As we can't get any further," said Maskull, "I presume this is your

Gap of Sorgie?"

 

"Yes," answered his friend, first dropping on his knees and then

lying at full length, face downward.  He drew his head and shoulders

over the edge and began to stare straight down at the water.

 

"What is there interesting down there, Nightspore?"

 

Receiving no reply, however, he followed his friend's example, and

the next minute was looking for himself.  Nothing was to be seen; the

gloom had deepened, and the sea was nearly invisible.  But, while he

was ineffectually gazing, he heard what sounded like the beating of a

drum on the narrow strip of shore below.  It was very faint, but

quite distinct.  The beats were in four - four time, with the third

beat slightly accented.  He now continued to hear the noise all the

time he was lying there.  The beats were in no way drowned by the far

louder sound of the surf, but seemed somehow to belong to a different

world....

 

When they were on their feet again, he questioned Nightspore.  "We

came here solely to hear that?"

 

Nightspore cast one of his odd looks at him.  "It's called locally

'The Drum Taps of Sorgie.' You will not hear that name again, but

perhaps you will hear the sound again."

 

"And if I do, what will it imply?" demanded Maskull in amazement.

 

"It bears its own message.  Only try always to hear it more and more

distinctly.... Now it's growing dark, and we must get back."

 

Maskull pulled out his watch automatically, and looked at the time.

It was past six.. .. But he was thinking of Nightspore's words, and

not of the time.

 

Night had already fallen by the time they regained the tower.  The

black sky was glorious with liquid stars.  Arcturus was a little way

above the sea, directly opposite them, in the east.  As they were

passing the base of the tower, Maskull observed with a sudden shock

that the gate was open.  He caught hold of Nightspore's arm

violently.  "Look!  Krag is back."

 

"Yes, we must make haste to the house."

 

"And why not the tower?  He's probably in there, since the gate is

open.  I'm going up to look."

 

Nightspore grunted, but made no opposition.

 

All was pitch - black inside the gate.  Maskull struck a match, and

the flickering light disclosed the lower end of a circular flight of

stone steps.  "Are you coming up?" he asked.

 

"No, I'll wait here."

 

Maskull immediately began the ascent.  Hardly had he mounted half a

dozen steps, however, before he was compelled to pause, to gain

breath.  He seemed to be carrying upstairs not one Maskull, but

three.  As he proceeded, the sensation of crushing weight, so far

from diminishing, grew worse and worse.  It was nearly physically

impossible to go on; his lungs could not take in enough oxygen, while

his heart thumped like a ship's engine.  Sweat coursed down his face.

At the twentieth step he completed the first revolution of the tower

and came face to face with the first window, which was set in a high

embrasure.

 

Realising that he could go no higher, he struck another match, and

climbed into the embrasure, in order that he might at all events see

something from the tower.  The flame died, and he stared through the

window at the stars. Then, to his astonishment, he discovered that it

was not a window at all but a lens.. .. The sky was not a wide

expanse of space containing a multitude of stars, but a blurred

darkness, focused only in one part, where two very bright stars, like

small moons in size, appeared in close conjunction; and near them a

more minute planetary object, as brilliant as Venus and with an

observable disk.  One of the suns shone with a glaring white light;

the other was a weird and awful blue.  Their light, though almost

solar in intensity, did not illuminate the interior of the tower.

 

Maskull knew at once that the system of spheres at which he was

gazing was what is known to astronomy as the star Arcturus.. .. He

had seen the sight before, through Krag's glass, but then the scale

had been smaller, the colors of the twin suns had not appeared in

their naked reality.... These colors seemed to him most marvellous,

as if, in seeing them through earth eyes, he was not seeing them

correctly.... But it was at Tormance that he stared the longest and

the most earnestly.  On that mysterious and terrible earth, countless

millions of miles distant, it had been promised him that he would set

foot, even though he might leave his bones there.  The strange

creatures that he was to behold and touch were already living, at

this very moment.

 

A low, sighing whisper sounded in his ear, from not more than a yard

away.  "Don't you understand, Maskull, that you are only an

instrument, to be used and then broken?  Nightspore is asleep now,

but when he wakes you must die.  You will go, but he will return."

 

Maskull hastily struck another match, with trembling fingers.  No one

was in sight, and all was quiet as the tomb.

The voice did not sound again.  After waiting a few minutes, he

redescended to the foot of the tower.  On gaining the open air, his

sensation of weight was instantly removed, but he continued panting

and palpitating, like a man who has lifted a far too heavy load.

 

Nightspore's dark form came forward.  "Was Krag there?"

 

"If he was. I didn't see him.  But I heard someone speak."

 

"Was it Krag?"'

 

"It was not Krag - but a voice warned me against you."

 

"Yes, you will hear these voices too," said Nightspore enigmatically.

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

THE NIGHT OF DEPARTURE

 

When they returned to the house, the windows were all in darkness and

the door was ajar, just as they had left it; Krag presumably was not

there.  Maskull went all over the house, striking matches in every

room - at the end of the examination he was ready to swear that the

man they were expecting had not even stuck his nose inside the

premises.  Groping their way into the library, they sat down in the

total darkness to wait, for nothing else remained to be done.

Maskull lit his pipe, and began to drink the remainder of the whisky.

Through the open window sounded in their ears the trainlike grinding

of the sea at the foot of the cliffs.

 

"Krag must be in the tower after all," remarked Maskull, breaking the

silence.

 

"Yes, he is getting ready."

 

"I hope he doesn't expect us to join him there.  It was beyond my

powers - but why, heaven knows.  The stairs must have a magnetic pull

of some sort."

 

"It is Tormantic gravity," muttered Nightspore.

 

"I understand you - or, rather, I don't - but it doesn't matter."

 

He went on smoking in silence, occasionally taking a mouthful of the

neat liquor.  "Who is Surtur?" he demanded abruptly.

 

"We others are gropers and bunglers, but he is a master."

 

Maskull digested this.  "I fancy you are right, for though I know

nothing about him his mere name has an exciting effect on me.. .. Are

you personally acquainted with him?"

 

"I must be ... I forget ... " replied Nightspore in a choking voice.

 

Maskull looked up, surprised, but could make nothing out in the

blackness of the room.

 

"Do you know so many extraordinary men that you can forget some of

them? ... Perhaps you can tell me this. - , will we meet him, where

we are going?"

 

"You will meet death, Maskull.... Ask me no more questions - I can't

answer them."

 

"Then let us go on waiting for Krag," said Maskull coldly.

 

Ten minutes later the front door slammed, and a light, quick footstep

was heard running up the stairs.  Maskull got up, with a beating

heart.

 

Krag appeared on the threshold of the door, bearing in his hand a

feebly glimmering lantern.  A hat was on his head, and he looked

stern and forbidding.  After scrutinising the two friends for a

moment or so, he strode into the room and thrust the lantern on the

table.  Its light hardly served to illuminate the walls.

 

"You have got here, then, Maskull?"

 

"So it seems - but I shan't thank you for your hospitality, for it

has been conspicuous by its absence."

 

Krag ignored the remark.  "Are you ready to start?"

 

"By all means - when you are.  It is not. so entertaining here."

 

Krag surveyed him critically.  "I heard you stumbling about in the

tower.  You couldn't get up, it seems."

 

"It looks like an obstacle, for Nightspore informs me that the start

takes place from the top."

 

"But your other doubts are all removed?"

 

"So far, Krag, that I now possess an open mind.  I am quite willing

to see what you can do."

 

"Nothing more is asked.... But this tower business.  You know that

until you are able to climb to the top you are unfit to stand the

gravitation of Tormance?"

 

"Then I repeat, it's an awkward obstacle, for I certainly can't get

up."

 

Krag hunted about in his pockets, and at length produced a clasp

knife.

 

"Remove you coat, and roll up your shirt sleeve," he directed.

 

"Do you propose to make an incision with that?"

 

"Yes, and don't start difficulties, because the effect is certain,

but you can't possibly understand it beforehand."

 

"Still, a cut with a pocket-knife - " began Maskull, laughing.

 

"It will answer, Maskull," interrupted Nightspore.

 

"Then bare your arm too, you aristocrat of the universe," said Krag.

"Let us see what your blood is made of."

 

Nightspore obeyed.

 

Krag pulled out the big blade of the knife, and made a careless and

almost savage slash at Maskull's upper arm.  The wound was deep, and

blood flowed freely.

 

"Do I bind it up?" asked Maskull, scowling with pain.

 

Krag spat on the wound 'Pull your shirt down. it won't bleed any

more."

 

He then turned his attention to Nightspore, who endured his operation

with grim indifference.  Krag threw the knife on the floor.

 

An awful agony, emanating from the wound, started to run through

Maskull's body, and he began to doubt whether he would not have to

faint, but it subsided almost immediately, and then he felt nothing

but a gnawing ache in the injured arm, just strong enough to make

life one long discomfort.

 

"That's finished," said Krag.  "Now you can follow me."

 

Picking up the lantern, he walked toward the door.  The others

hastened after him, to take advantage of the light, and a moment

later their footsteps, clattering down the uncarpeted stairs,

resounded through the deserted house.  Krag waited till they were

out, and then banged the front door after them with such violence

that the windows shook.

 

While they were walking swiftly across to the tower, Maskull caught

his arm.  "I heard a voice up those stairs."

 

"What did it say?"

 

"That I am to go, but Nightspore is to return."

 

Krag smiled.  "The journey is getting notorious," he remarked, after

a pause.  "There must be ill - wishers about.... Well, do you want to

return?"

 

"I don't know what I want.  But I thought the thing was curious

enough to be mentioned."

 

"It is not a bad thing to hear voices," said Krag, "but you mustn't

for a minute imagine that all is wise that comes to you out of the

night world."

 

When they had arrived at the open gateway of the tower, he

immediately set foot on the bottom step of the spiral staircase and

ran nimbly up, bearing the lantern.  Maskull followed him with some

trepidation, in view of his previous painful experience on these

stairs, but when, after the first half - dozen steps, he discovered

that he was still breathing freely, his dread changed to relief and

astonishment, and he could have chattered like a girl.

 

At the lowest window Krag went straight ahead without stepping, but

Maskull clambered into the embrasure, in order to renew his

acquaintance with the miraculous spectacle of the Arcturian group.

The lens had lost its magic property.  It had become a common sheet

of glass, through which the ordinary sky field appeared.

 

The climb continued, and at the second and third windows he again

mounted and stared out, but still the common sights presented

themselves.  After that, he gave up and looked through no more

windows.

 

Krag and Nightspore meanwhile had gone on ahead with the light, so

that he had to complete the ascent in darkness.  When he was near the

top, he saw yellow light shining through the crack of a half - opened

door.  His companions were standing just inside a small room, shut

off from the staircase by rough wooden planking; it was rudely

furnished and contained nothing of astronomical interest.  The

lantern was resting on a table.

 

Maskull walked in and looked around him with curiosity. "Are we at

the top?"

 

"Except for the platform over our heads," replied Krag.

 

"Why didn't that lowest window magnify, as it did earlier in the

evening?"

 

"Oh, you missed your opportunity," said Krag, grinning.  "If you had

finished your climb then, you would have seen heart - expanding

sights.  From the fifth window, for example, you would have seen

Tormance like a continent in relief; from the sixth you would have

seen it like a landscape.... But now there's no need."

 

"Why not - and what has need got to do with it?"

 

"Things are changed, my friend, since that wound of yours.  For the

same reason that you have now been able to mount the stairs, there

was no necessity to stop and gape at illusions en route."

 

"Very well," said Maskull, not quite understanding what he meant.

"But is this Surtur's den?"

 

"He has spent time here."

 

"I wish you would describe this mysterious individual, Krag.  We may

not get another chance."

 

"What I said about the windows also applies to Surtur.  There's no

need to waste time over visualising him, because you are immediately

going on to the reality."

 

"Then let us go." He pressed his eyeballs wearily.

 

"Do we strip?" asked Nightspore.

 

"Naturally," answered Krag, and he began to tear off his clothes with

slow, uncouth movements.

 

"Why?" demanded Maskull, following, however, the example of the other

two men.

 

Krag thumped his vast chest, which was covered with thick hairs, like

an ape's.  "Who knows what the Tormance fashions are like?  We may

sprout limbs - I don't say we shall."

 

"A - ha!" exclaimed Maskull, pausing in the middle of his undressing.

 

Krag smote him on the back.  "New pleasure organs possible, Maskull.

You like that?"

 

The three men stood as nature made them.  Maskull's spirits rose

fast, as the moment of departure drew near.

 

"A farewell drink to success!" cried Krag, seizing a bottle and

breaking its head off between his fingers.  There were no glasses,

but he poured the amber - coloured wine into some cracked cups.

 

Perceiving that the others drank, Maskull tossed off his cupful.  It

was as if he had swallowed a draught of liquid electricity.... Krag

dropped onto the floor and rolled around on his back, kicking his

legs in the air.  He tried to drag Maskull down on top of him, and a

little horseplay went on between the two.  Nightspore took no part in

it, but walked to and fro, like a hungry caged animal.

 

Suddenly, from out - of - doors, there came a single prolonged,

piercing wail, such as a banshee might be imagined to utter.  It

ceased abruptly, and was not repeated.

 

"What's that?" called out Maskull, disengaging himself impatiently

from Krag.

 

Krag rocked with laughter.  "A Scottish spirit trying to reproduce

the bagpipes of its earth life - in honour of our departure."

 

Nightspore turned to Krag.  "Maskull will sleep throughout the

journey?"

 

"And you too, if you wish, my altruistic friend. I am pilot, and you

passengers can amuse yourselves as you please."

 

"Are we off at last?" asked Maskull.

 

"Yes, you are about to cross your Rubicon, Maskull.  But what a

Rubicon! .. . Do you know that it takes light a hundred years or so

to arrive here from Arcturus?  Yet we shall do it in nineteen hours."

 

"Then you assert that Surtur is already there?"

 

"Surtur is where he is.  He is a great traveller."

 

"Won't I see him?"

 

Krag went up to him and looked him in the eyes.  "Don't forget that

you have asked for it, and wanted it.  Few people in Tormance will

know more about him than you do, but your memory will be your worst

friend."

 

He led the way up a short iron ladder, mounting through a trap to the

flat roof above.  When they were up, he switched on a small electric

torch.

 

Maskull beheld with awe the torpedo of crystal that was to convey

them through the whole breadth of visible space.  It was forty feet

long, eight wide, and eight high; the tank containing the Arcturian

back rays was in front, the car behind.  The nose of the torpedo was

directed toward the south-eastern sky.  The whole machine rested upon

a flat platform, raised about four feet above the level of the roof,

so as to encounter no obstruction on starting its flight.

 

Krag flashed the light on to the door of the car, to enable them to

enter.  Before doing so, Maskull gazed sternly once again at the

gigantic, far - distant star, which was to be their sun from now

onward.  He frowned, shivered slightly, and got in beside Nightspore.

Krag clambered past them onto his pilot's seat.  He threw the

flashlight through the open door, which was then carefully closed,

fastened, and screwed up.

 

He pulled the starting lever.  The torpedo glided gently from its

platform, and passed rather slowly away from the tower, seaward.  Its

speed increased sensibly, though not excessively, until the

approximate limits of the earth's atmosphere were reached.  Krag then

released the speed valve, and the car sped on its way with a velocity

more nearly approaching that of thought than of light.

 

Maskull had no opportunity of examining through the crystal walls the

rapidly changing panorama of the heavens.  An extreme drowsiness

oppressed him.  He opened his eyes violently a dozen times, but on

the thirteenth attempt he failed.  From that time forward he slept

heavily.

 

The bored, hungry expression never left Nightspore's face.  The

alterations in the aspect of the sky seemed to possess not the least

interest for him.

 

Krag sat with his hand on the lever, watching with savage intentness

his phosphorescent charts and gauges.

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

JOIWIND

 

IT WAS DENSE NIGHT when Maskull awoke from his profound sleep.  A

wind was blowing against him, gentle but wall - like, such as he had

never experienced on earth.  He remained sprawling on the ground, as

he was unable to lift his body because of its intense weight.  A

numbing pain, which he could not identify with any region of his

frame, acted from now onward as a lower, sympathetic note to all his

other sensations.  It gnawed away at him continuously; sometimes it

embittered and irritated him, at other times he forgot it.

 

He felt something hard on his forehead.  Putting his hand up, he

discovered there a fleshy protuberance the size of a small plum,

having a cavity in the middle, of which he could not feel the bottom.

Then he also became aware of a large knob on each side of his neck,

an inch below the ear.

 

From the region of his heart, a tentacle had budded.  It was as long

as his arm, but thin, like whipcord, and soft and flexible.

 

As soon as he thoroughly realised the significance of these new

organs, his heart began to pump.  Whatever might, or might not, be

their use, they proved one thing that he was in a new world.

 

One part of the sky began to get lighter than the rest.  Maskull

cried out to his companions, but received no response.  This

frightened him.  He went on shouting out, at irregular intervals -

equally alarmed at the silence and at the sound of his own voice.

Finally, as no answering hail came, he thought it wiser not to make

too much noise, and after that he lay quiet, waiting in cold blood

for what might happen.

 

In a short while he perceived dim shadows around him, but these were

not his friends.

 

A pale, milky vapour over the ground began to succeed the black

night, while in the upper sky rosy tints appeared.  On earth, one

would have said that day was breaking.  The brightness went on

imperceptibly increasing for a very long time.

 

Maskull then discovered that he was lying on sand.  The colour of the

sand was scarlet.  The obscure shadows he had seen were bushes, with

black stems and purple leaves.  So far, nothing else was visible.

 

The day surged up.  It was too misty for direct sunshine, but before

long the brilliance of the light was already greater than that of the

midday sun on earth.  The heat, too, was intense, but Maskull

welcomed it - it relieved his pain and diminished his sense of

crushing weight.  The wind had dropped with the rising of the sun.

 

He now tried to get onto his feet, but succeeded only in kneeling.

He was unable to see far.  The mists had no more than partially

dissolved, and all that he could distinguish was a narrow circle of

red sand dotted with ten or twenty bushes.

 

He felt a soft, cool touch on the back of his neck.  He started

forward in nervous fright and, in doing so, tumbled over onto the

sand.  Looking up over his shoulder quickly, he was astounded to see

a woman standing beside him.

 

She was clothed in a single flowing, pale green garment, rather

classically draped.  According to earth standards she was not

beautiful, for, although her face was otherwise human, she was

endowed - or afflicted - with the additional disfiguring organs that

Maskull had discovered in himself.  She also possessed the heart

tentacle.  But when he sat up, and their eyes met and remained in

sympathetic contact, he seemed to see right into a soul that was the

home of love, warmth, kindness, tenderness, and intimacy. Such was

the noble familiarity of that gaze, that he thought he knew her.

After that, he recognised all the loveliness of her person.  She was

tall and slight.  All her movements were as graceful as music.  Her

skin was not of a dead, opaque colour, like that of an earth beauty,

but was opalescent; its hue was continually changing, with every

thought and emotion, but none of these tints was vivid  -  all were

delicate, half - toned, and poetic.  She had very long, loosely

plaited, flaxen hair.  The new organs, as soon as Maskull had

familiarised himself with them, imparted something to her face that

was unique and striking.  He could not quite define it to himself,

but subtlety and inwardness seemed added.  The organs did not

contradict the love of her eyes or the angelic purity of her

features, but nevertheless sounded a deeper note - a note that saved

her from mere girlishness.

 

Her gaze was so friendly and unembarrassed that Maskull felt scarcely

any humiliation at sitting at her feet, naked and helpless.  She

realised his plight, and put into his hands a garment that she had

been carrying over her arm.  It was similar to the one she was

wearing, but of a darker, more masculine colour.

 

"Do you think you can put it on by yourself?"

 

He was distinctly conscious of these words, yet her voice had not

sounded.

 

He forced himself up to his feet, and she helped him to master the

complications of the drapery.

 

"Poor man - how you are suffering!" she said, in the same inaudible

language.  This time he discovered that the sense of what she said

was received by his brain through the organ on his forehead.

 

"Where am I? Is this Tormance?" he asked.  As he spoke, he staggered.

 

She caught him, and helped him to sit down.  "Yes.  You are with

friends."

 

Then she regarded him with a smile, and began speaking aloud, in

English.  Her voice somehow reminded him of an April day, it was so

fresh, nervous, and girlish.  "I can now understand your language.

It was strange at first. in the future I'll speak to you with my

mouth."

 

"This is extraordinary!  What is this organ?" he asked, touching his

forehead.

 

"It is named the 'breve.' By means of it we read one another's

thoughts.  Still, speech is better, for then the heart can be read

too."

 

He smiled.  "They say that speech is given us to deceive others."

 

"One can deceive with thought, too.  But I'm thinking of the best,

not the worst."

 

"Have you seen my friends?"

 

'She scrutinised him quietly, before answering.  "Did you not come

alone?"

 

"I came with two other men, in a machine. I must have lost

consciousness on arrival, and I haven't seen them since."

 

"That's very strange!  No, I haven't seen them.  They can't be here,

or we would have known it.  My husband and I - "

 

"What is your name, and your husband's name?"

 

"Mine is Joiwind - my husband's is Panawe.  We live a very long way

from here; still, it came to us both last night that you were lying

here insensible.  We almost quarrelled about which of us should come

to you, but in the end I won." Here she laughed.  "I won, because I

am the stronger - hearted of the two; he is the purer in perception."

 

"Thanks, Joiwind!" said Maskull simply.

 

The colors chased each other rapidly beneath her skin.  "Oh, why do

you say that?  What pleasure is greater than loving-kindness? I

rejoiced at the opportunity.... But now we must exchange blood."

 

"What is this?" he demanded, rather puzzled.

 

"It must be so.  Your blood is far too thick and heavy for our world.

Until you have an infusion of mine, you will never get up."

 

Maskull flushed.  "I feel like a complete ignoramus here.... Won't it

hurt you?"

 

"If your blood pains you, I suppose it will pain me.  But we will

share the pain."

 

"This is a new kind of hospitality to me," he muttered.

 

"Wouldn't you do the same for me?" asked Joiwind,

half smiling, half agitated.

 

"I can't answer for any of my actions in this world.  I scarcely know

where I am.... Why, yes - of course I would, Joiwind."

 

While they were talking it had become full day.  The mists had rolled

away from the ground, and only the upper atmosphere remained fog -

charged.  The desert of scarlet sand stretched in all directions,

except one, where there was a sort of little oasis - some low hills,

clothed sparsely with little purple trees from base to summit.  It

was about a quarter of a mile distant.

 

Joiwind had brought with her a small flint knife.  Without any trace

of nervousness, she made a careful, deep incision on her upper arm.

Maskull expostulated.

 

"Really, this part of it is nothing," she said, laughing.  "And if it

were - a sacrifice that is no sacrifice - what merit is there in

that? ... Come now - your arm!"

 

The blood was streaming down her arm.  It was not red blood, but a

milky, opalescent fluid.

 

"Not that one!" said Maskull, shrinking.  "I have already been cut

there." He submitted the other, and his blood poured forth.

 

Joiwind delicately and skilfully placed the mouths of the two wounds

together, and then kept her arm pressed tightly against Maskull's for

a long time.  He felt a stream of pleasure entering his body through

the incision.  His old lightness and vigour began to return to him.

After about five minutes a duel of kindness started between them; he

wanted to remove his arm, and she to continue.  At last he had his

way, but it was none too soon - she stood there pale and dispirited.

 

She looked at him with a more serious expression than before, as if

strange depths had opened up before her eyes.

"What is your name?"

 

"Maskull."

 

"Where have you come from, with this awful blood?"

 

"From a world called Earth.... The blood is clearly unsuitable for

this world, Joiwind, but after all, that was only to be expected. I

am sorry I let you have your way."

 

"Oh, don't say that!  There was nothing else to be done.  We must all

help one another.  Yet, somehow - forgive me - I feel polluted."

 

"And well you may, for it's a fearful thing for a girl to accept in

her own veins the blood of a strange man from a strange planet.  If I

had not been so dazed and weak I would never have allowed it."

 

"But I would have insisted.  Are we not all brothers and sisters?

Why did you come here, Maskull?"

 

He was conscious of a slight degree of embarrassment.  "Will you

think it foolish if I say I hardly know? - I came with those two men.

Perhaps I was attracted by curiosity, or perhaps it was the love of

adventure."

 

"Perhaps," said Joiwind.  "I wonder .. . These friends of yours must

be terrible men.  Why did they come?"

 

"That I can tell you.  They came to follow Surtur."

 

Her face grew troubled.  "I don't understand it.  One of them at

least must be a bad man, and yet if he is following Surtur - or

Shaping, as he is called here - he can't be really bad."

 

"What do you know of Surtur?" asked Maskull in astonishment.

 

Joiwind remained silent for a time, studying his face.  His brain

moved restlessly, as though it were being probed from outside.  "I

see.... and yet I don't see," she said at last.  "It is very

difficult.... Your God is a dreadful Being - bodyless, unfriendly,

invisible.  Here we don't worship a God like that.  Tell me, has any

man set eyes on your God?"

 

"What does all this mean, Joiwind?  Why speak of God?"

 

"I want to know."

 

"In ancient times, when the earth was young and grand, a few holy men

are reputed to have walked and spoken with God, but those days are

past."

 

"Our world is still young," said Joiwind.  "Shaping goes among us and

converses with us.  He is real and active - a friend and lover.

Shaping made us, and he loves his work."

 

"Have you met him?" demanded Maskull, hardly believing his ears.

 

"No.  I have done nothing to deserve it yet.  Some day I may have an

opportunity to sacrifice myself, and then I may be rewarded by

meeting and talking with Shaping."

 

"I have certainly come to another world.  But why do you say he is

the same as Surtur?"

 

"Yes, he is the same.  We women call him Shaping, and so do most men,

but a few name him Surtur."

 

Maskull bit his nail.  "Have you ever heard of Crystalman?"

 

"That is Shaping once again.  You see, he has many names - which

shows how much he occupies our minds.  Crystalman is a name of

affection."

 

"It's odd," said Maskull.  "I came here with quite different ideas

about Crystalman."

 

Joiwind shook her hair.  "In that grove of trees over there stands a

desert shrine of his.  Let us go and pray there, and then we'll go on

our way to Poolingdred.  That is my home.  It's a long way off, and

we must get there before Blodsombre."

 

"Now, what is Blodsombre?"

 

"For about four hours in the middle of the day Branchspell's rays are

so hot that no one can endure them.  We call it Blodsombre."

 

"Is Branchspell another name for Arcturus?"

 

Joiwind threw off her seriousness and laughed.  "Naturally we don't

take our names from you, Maskull. I don't think our names are very

poetic, but they follow nature."

 

She took his arm affectionately, and directed their walk towards the

tree - covered hills.  As they went along, the sun broke through the

upper mists and a terrible gust of scorching heat, like a blast from

a furnace, struck Maskull's head.  He involuntarily looked up, but

lowered his eyes again like lightning.  All that he saw in that

instant was a glaring ball of electric white, three times the

apparent diameter of the sun.  For a few minutes he was quite blind.

 

"My God!" he exclaimed.  "If it's like this in early morning you must

be right enough about Blodsombre." When he had somewhat recovered

himself he asked, "How long are the days here, Joiwind?"

 

Again he felt his brain being probed.

 

"At this time of the year, for every hour's daylight that you have in

summer, we have two."

 

"The heat is terrific - and yet somehow I don't feel so distressed by

it as I would have expected."

 

"I feel it more than usual.  It's not difficult to account for it;

you have some of my blood, and I have some of yours."

 

"Yes, every time I realise that, I - Tell me, Joiwind, will my blood

alter, if I stay here long enough? - I mean, will it lose its redness

and thickness, and become pure and thin and light - coloured, like

yours?"

 

"Why not?  If you live as we live, you will assuredly grow like us."

 

"Do you mean food and drink?"

 

"We eat no food, and drink only water."

 

"And on that you manage to sustain life?"

 

"Well, Maskull, our water is good water," replied Joiwind, smiling.

 

As soon as he could see again he stared around at the landscape.  The

enormous scarlet desert extended everywhere to the horizon, excepting

where it was broken by the oasis.  It was roofed by a cloudless, deep

blue, almost violet, sky.  The circle of the horizon was far larger

than on earth.  On the skyline, at right angles to the direction in

which they were walking, appeared a chain of mountains, apparently

about forty miles' distant.  One, which was higher than the rest, was

shaped like a cup.  Maskull would have felt inclined to believe he

was travelling in dreamland, but for the intensity of the light,

which made everything vividly real.

 

Joiwind pointed to the cup - shaped mountain.  "That's Poolingdred."

 

"You didn't come from there!" he exclaimed, quite startled.

 

"Yes, I did indeed.  And that is where we have to go to now."

 

"With the single object of finding me?"

 

"Why, yes."

 

The colour mounted to his face.  "Then you are the bravest and

noblest of all girls," he said quietly, after a pause.  "Without

exception.  Why, this is a journey for an athlete!"

 

She pressed his arm, while a score of unpaintable, delicate hues

stained her cheeks in rapid transition.  "Please don't say any more

about it, Maskull.  It makes me feel unpleasant."

 

"Very well.  But can we possibly get there before midday?"

 

"Oh, yes.  And you mustn't be frightened at the distance.  We think

nothing of long distances here - we have so much to think about and

feel.  Time goes all too quickly."

 

During their conversation they had drawn neat the base of the hills,

which sloped gently, and were not above fifty feet in height.

Maskull now began to see strange specimens of vegetable life.  What

looked like a small patch of purple grass, above five feet square,

was moving across the sand in their direction.  When it came near

enough he perceived that it was not grass; there were no blades, but

only purple roots.  The roots were revolving, for each small plant in

the whole patch, like the spokes of a rimless wheel.  They were

alternately plunged in the sand, and withdrawn from it, and by this

means the plant proceeded forward.  Some uncanny, semi - intelligent

instinct was keeping all the plants together, moving at one pace, in

one direction, like a flock of migrating birds in flight.

 

Another remarkable plant was a large, feathery ball, resembling a

dandelion fruit, which they encountered sailing through the air.

Joiwind caught it with an exceedingly graceful movement of her arm,

and showed it to Maskull.  It had roots and presumably lived in the

air and fed on the chemical constituents of the atmosphere.  But what

was peculiar about it was its colour.  It was an entirely new colour

- not a new shade or combination, but a new primary colour, as vivid

as blue, red, or yellow, but quite different.  When he inquired, she

told him that it was known as "ulfire." Presently he met with a

second new colour.  This she designated "jale." The sense impressions

caused in Maskull by these two additional primary colors can only be

vaguely hinted at by analogy.  Just as blue is delicate and

mysterious, yellow clear and unsubtle, and red sanguine and

passionate, so he felt ulfire to be wild and painful, and jale

dreamlike, feverish, and voluptuous.

 

The hills were composed of a rich, dark mould.  Small trees, of weird

shapes, all differing from each other, but all purple - coloured,

covered the slopes and top.  Maskull and Joiwind climbed up and

through.  Some hard fruit, bright blue in colour, of the size of a

large apple, and shaped like an egg, was lying in profusion

underneath the trees.

 

"Is the fruit here poisonous, or why don't you eat it?" asked

Maskull.

 

She looked at him tranquilly.  "We don't eat living things.  The

thought is horrible to us."

 

"I have nothing to say against that, theoretically.  But do you

really sustain your bodies on water?"

 

"Supposing you could find nothing else to live on, Maskull - would

you eat other men?"

 

"I would not."

 

"Neither will we eat plants and animals, which are our fellow

creatures.  So nothing is left to us but water, and as one can really

live on anything, water does very well."

 

Maskull picked up one of the fruits and handled it curiously.  As he

did so another of his newly acquired sense organs came into action.

He found that the fleshy knobs beneath his ears were in some novel

fashion acquainting him with the inward properties of the fruit.  He

could not only see, feel, and smell it, but could detect its

intrinsic nature.  This nature was hard, persistent and melancholy.

 

Joiwind answered the questions he had not asked.

 

"Those organs are called 'poigns.' Their use is to enable us to

understand and sympathise with all living creatures."

 

"What advantage do you derive from that, Joiwind?"

 

"The advantage of not being cruel and selfish, dear Maskull."

 

He threw the fruit away and flushed again.

 

Joiwind looked into his swarthy, bearded face without embarrassment

and slowly smiled.  "Have I said too much?  Have I been too familiar?

Do you know why you think so?  It's because you are still impure.  By

and by you will listen to all language without shame."

 

Before he realised what she was about to do, she threw her tentacle

round his neck, like another arm.  He offered no resistance to its

cool pressure.  The contact of her soft flesh with his own was so

moist and sensitive that it resembled another kind of kiss.  He saw

who it was that embraced him -  a pale, beautiful girl.  Yet, oddly

enough, he experienced neither voluptuousness nor sexual pride.  The

love expressed by the caress was rich, glowing, and personal, but

there was not the least trace of sex in it - and so he received it.

 

She removed her tentacle, placed her two arms on his shoulders and

penetrated with her eyes right into his very soul.

 

"Yes, I wish to be pure," he muttered.  "Without that what can I ever

be but a weak, squirming devil?"

 

Joiwind released him.  "This we call the 'magn,' " she said,

indicating her tentacle.  "By means of it what we love already we

love more, and what we don't love at all we begin to love."

 

"A godlike organ!"

 

"It is the one we guard most jealously," said Joiwind.

 

The shade of the trees afforded a timely screen from the now almost

insufferable rays of Branchspell, which was climbing steadily upward

to the zenith.  On descending the other side of the little hills,

Maskull looked anxiously for traces of Nightspore and Krag, but

without result.  After staring about him for a few minutes he

shrugged his shoulders; but suspicions had already begun to gather in

his mind.

 

A small, natural amphitheatre lay at their feet, completely circled

by the tree - clad heights.  The centre was of red sand.  In the very

middle shot up a tall, stately tree, with a black trunk and branches,

and transparent, crystal leaves.  At the foot of this tree was a

natural, circular well, containing dark green water.

 

When they had reached the bottom, Joiwind took him straight over to

the well.

 

Maskull gazed at it intently.  "Is this the shrine you talked about?"

 

"Yes.  It is called Shaping's Well.  The man or woman who wishes to

invoke Shaping must take up some of the gnawl water, and drink it."

 

"Pray for me," said Maskull.  "Your unspotted prayer will carry more

weight."

 

"What do you wish for?"

 

"For purity," answered Maskull, in a troubled voice.

 

Joiwind made a cup of her hand, and drank a little of the water.  She

held it up to Maskull's mouth.  "You must drink too." He obeyed.  She

then stood erect, closed her eyes, and, in a voice like the soft

murmurings of spring, prayed aloud.

 

"Shaping, my father, I am hoping you can hear me.  A strange man has

come to us weighed down with heavy blood.  He wishes to be pure.  Let

him know the meaning of love, let him live for others.  Don't spare

him pain, dear Shaping, but let him seek his own pain.  Breathe into

him a noble soul."

 

Maskull listened with tears in his heart.

 

As Joiwind finished speaking, a blurred mist came over his eyes, and,

half buried in the scarlet sand, appeared a large circle of

dazzlingly white pillars.  For some minutes they flickered to and fro

between distinctness and indistinctness, like an object being

focused.  Then they faded out of sight again.

 

"Is that a sign from Shaping?" asked Maskull, in a low, awed tone.

 

"Perhaps it is.  It is a time mirage."

 

"What can that be, Joiwind?"

 

"You see, dear Maskull, the temple does not yet exist but it will do

so, because it must.  What you and I are now doing in simplicity,

wise men will do hereafter in full knowledge."

 

"It is right for man to pray," said Maskull.  "Good and evil in the

world don't originate from nothing.  God and Devil must exist.  And

we should pray to the one, and fight the other."

 

"Yes, we must fight Krag."

 

"What name did you say?" asked Maskull in amazement.

 

"Krag - the author of evil and misery - whom you call Devil."

 

He immediately concealed his thoughts.  To prevent Joiwind from

learning his relationship to this being, he made his mind a blank.

 

"Why do you hide your mind from me?" she demanded, looking at him

strangely and changing colour.

 

"In this bright, pure, radiant world, evil seems so remote, one can

scarcely grasp its meaning." But he lied.

 

Joiwind continued gazing at him, straight out of her clean soul.

"The world is good and pure, but many men are corrupt.  Panawe, my

husband, has travelled, and he has told me things I would almost

rather have not heard.  One person he met believed the universe to

be, from top to bottom, a conjurer's cave."

 

"I should like to meet your husband."

 

"Well, we are going home now."

 

Maskull was on the point of inquiring whether she had any children,

but was afraid of offending her, and checked himself.

 

She read the mental question.  "What need is there?  Is not the whole

world full of lovely children?  Why should I want selfish

possessions?"

 

An extraordinary creature flew past, uttering a plaintive cry of five

distinct notes.  It was not a bird, but had a balloon - shaped body,

paddled by five webbed feet.  It disappeared among the trees.

 

Joiwind pointed to it, as it went by.  "I love that beast, grotesque

as it is - perhaps all the more for its grotesqueness.  But if I had

children of my own, would I still love it?  Which is best - to love

two or three, or to love all?"

 

"Every woman can't be like you, Joiwind, but it is good to have a few

like you.  Wouldn't it be as well," he went on, "since we've got to

walk through that sun - baked wilderness, to make turbans for our

heads out of some of those long leaves?"

 

She smiled rather pathetically.  "You will think me foolish, but

every tearing off of a leaf would be a wound in my heart.  We have

only to throw our robes over our heads."

 

"No doubt that will answer the same purpose, but tell me - weren't

these very robes once part of a living creature?"

 

"Oh, no - no, they are the webs of a certain animal, but they have

never been in themselves alive."

 

"You reduce life to extreme simplicity," remarked Maskull

meditatively, "but it is very beautiful."

 

Climbing back over the hills, they now without further ceremony began

their march across the desert.

 

They walked side by side.  Joiwind directed their course straight

toward Poolingdred.  From the position of the sun, Maskull judged

their way to lie due north.  The sand was soft and powdery, very

tiring to his naked feet.  The red glare dazed his eyes, and made him

semi - blind.  He was hot, parched, and tormented with the craving to

drink; his undertone of pain emerged into full consciousness.

 

"I see my friends nowhere, and it is very queer."

 

"Yes, it is queer - if it is accidental," said Joiwind, with a

peculiar intonation.

 

"Exactly!" agreed Maskull.  "If they had met with a mishap, their

bodies would still be there.  It begins to look like a piece of bad

work to me.  They must have gone on, and left me.... Well, I am here,

and I must make the best of it, I will trouble no more about them."

 

"I don't wish to speak ill of anyone," said Joiwind, "but my instinct

tells me that you are better away from those men.  They did not come

here for your sake, but for their own."

 

They walked on for a long time.  Maskull was beginning to feel faint.

She twined her magn lovingly around his waist, and a strong current

of confidence and well - being instantly coursed through his veins.

 

"Thanks, Joiwind!  But am I not weakening you?"

 

"Yes," she replied, with a quick, thrilling glance.  "But not much -

and it gives me great happiness."

 

Presently they met a fantastic little creature, the size of a new -

born lamb, waltzing along on three legs.  Each leg in turn moved to

the front, and so the little monstrosity proceeded by means of a

series of complete rotations.  It was vividly coloured, as though it

had been dipped into pots of bright blue and yellow paint.  It looked

up with small, shining eyes, as they passed.

 

Joiwind nodded and smiled to it.  "That's a personal friend of mine,

Maskull.  Whenever I come this way, I see it. It's always waltzing,

and always in a hurry, but it never seems to get anywhere."

 

"It seems to me that life is so self - sufficient here that there is

no need for anyone to get anywhere.  What I don't quite understand is

how you manage to pass your days without ennui."

 

"That's a strange word.  It means, does it not, craving for

excitement?"

 

"Something of the kind," said Maskull.

 

"That must be a disease brought on by rich food."

 

"But are you never dull?"

 

"How could we be?  Our blood is quick and light and free, our flesh

is clean and unclogged, inside and out .... Before long I hope you

will understand what sort of question you have asked."

 

Farther on they encountered a strange phenomenon.  In the heart of

the desert a fountain rose perpendicularly fifty feet into the air,

with a cool and pleasant hissing sound.  It differed, however, from a

fountain in this respect - that the water of which it was composed

did not return to the ground but was absorbed by the atmosphere at

the summit.  It was in fact a tall, graceful column of dark green

fluid, with a capital of coiling and twisting vapours.

 

When they came closer, Maskull perceived that this water column was

the continuation and termination of a flowing brook, which came down

from the direction of the mountains.  The explanation of the

phenomenon was evidently that the water at this spot found chemical

affinities in the upper air, and consequently forsook the ground.

 

"Now let us drink," said Joiwind.

 

She threw herself unaffectedly at full length on the sand, face

downward, by the side of the brook, and Maskull was not long in

following her example.  She refused to quench her thirst until she

had seen him drink.  He found the water heavy, but bubbling with gas.

He drank copiously.  It affected his palate in a new way - with the

purity and cleanness of water was combined the exhilaration of a

sparkling wine, raising his spirits - but somehow the intoxication

brought out his better nature, and not his lower.

 

"We call it gnawl water'," said Joiwind.  "This is not quite pure, as

you can see by the colour.  At Poolingdred it is crystal clear.  But

we would be ungrateful if we complained.  After this you'll find

we'll get along much better."

 

Maskull now began to realise his environment, as it were for the

first time.  All his sense organs started to show him beauties and

wonders that he had not hitherto suspected.  The uniform glaring

scarlet of the sands became separated into a score of clearly

distinguished shades of red.  The sky was similarly split up into

different blues.  The radiant heat of Branchspell he found to affect

every part of his body with unequal intensifies.  His ears awakened;

the atmosphere was full of murmurs, the sands hummed, even the sun's

rays had a sound of their own - a kind of faint Aeolian harp.

Subtle, puzzling perfumes assailed his nostrils.  His palate lingered

over the memory of the gnawl water.  All the pores of his skin were

tickled and soothed by hitherto unperceived currents of air.  His

poigns explored actively the inward nature of everything in his

immediate vicinity.  His magn touched Joiwind, and drew from her

person a stream of love and joy.  And lastly by means of his breve he

exchanged thoughts with her in silence.  This mighty sense symphony

stirred him to the depths, and throughout the walk of that endless

morning he felt no more fatigue.

 

When it was drawing near to Blodsombre, they approached the sedgy

margin of a dark green lake, which lay underneath Poolingdred.

 

Panawe was sitting on a dark rock, waiting for them.

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

PANAWE

 

The husband got up to meet his wife and their guest.  He was clothed

in white.  He had a beardless face, with breve and poigns.  His skin,

on face and body alike, was so white, fresh, and soft, that it

scarcely looked skin at all - it rather resembled a new kind of pure,

snowy flesh, extending right down to his bones.  It had nothing in

common with the artificially whitened skin of an over-civilised

woman.  Its whiteness and delicacy aroused no voluptuous thoughts; it

was obviously the manifestation of a cold and almost cruel chastity

of nature.  His hair, which fell to the nape of his neck, also was

white; but again, from vigour, not decay.  His eyes were black, quiet

and fathomless.  He was still a young man, but so stern were his

features that he had the appearance of a lawgiver, and this in spite

of their great beauty and harmony.

 

His magn and Joiwind's intertwined for a single moment and Maskull

saw his face soften with love, while she looked exultant.  She put

him in her husband's arms with gentle force, and stood back, gazing

and smiling.  Maskull felt rather embarrassed at being embraced by a

man, but submitted to it; a sense of cool, pleasant languor passed

through him in the act.

 

"The stranger is red - blooded, then?"

 

He was startled by Panawe's speaking in English, and the voice too

was extraordinary.  It was absolutely tranquil, but its tranquillity

seemed in a curious fashion to be an illusion, proceeding from a

rapidity of thoughts and feelings so great that their motion could

not be detected.  How this could be, he did not know.

 

"How do you come to speak in a tongue you have never heard before?"

demanded Maskull.

 

"Thought is a rich, complex thing. I can't say if I am really

speaking your tongue by instinct, or if you yourself are translating

my thoughts into your tongue as I utter them."

 

"Already you see that Panawe is wiser than I am," said Joiwind gaily.

 

"What is your name?" asked the husband.

 

"Maskull."

 

"That name must have a meaning - but again, thought is a strange

thing.  I connect that name with something - but with what?"

 

"Try to discover," said Joiwind.

 

"Has there been a man in your world who stole something from the

Maker of the, universe, in order to ennoble his fellow creatures?"

 

"There is such a myth, The hero's name was Prometheus."

 

"Well, you seem to be identified in my mind with that action - but

what it all means I can't say, Maskull."

 

"Accept it as a good omen, for Panawe never lies, and never speaks

thoughtlessly."

 

"There must be some confusion.  These are heights beyond me," said

Maskull calmly, but looking rather contemplative.

 

"Where do you come from?"

 

"From the planet of a distant sun, called Earth."

 

"What for?"

 

"I was tired of vulgarity," returned Maskull laconically.  He

intentionally avoided mentioning his fellow voyagers, in order that

Krag's name should not come to light.

 

"That's an honourable motive," said Panawe.  "And what's more, it may

be true, though you spoke it as a prevarication."

 

"As far as it goes, it's quite true," said Maskull, staring at him

with annoyance and surprise.

 

The swampy lake extended for about half a mile from where they were

standing to the lower buttresses of the mountain.  Feathery purple

reeds showed themselves here and there through the shallows.  The

water was dark green.  Maskull did not see how they were going to

cross it.

 

Joiwind caught his arm.  "Perhaps you don't know that the lake will

bear us?"

 

Panawe walked onto the water; it was so heavy that it carried his

weight.  Joiwind followed with Maskull.  He instantly started to slip

about - nevertheless the motion was amusing, and he learned so fast,

by watching and imitating Panawe, that he was soon able to balance

himself without assistance.  After that he found the sport excellent.

 

For the same reason that women excel in dancing, Joiwind's half falls

and recoveries were far more graceful and sure than those of either

of the men.  Her slight, draped form - dipping, bending, rising,

swaying, twisting, upon the surface of the dark water - this was a

picture Maskull could not keep his eyes away from.

 

The lake grew deeper.  The gnawl water became green - black.  The

crags, gullies, and precipices of the shore could now be

distinguished in detail.  A waterfall was visible, descending several

hundred feet.  The surface of the lake grew disturbed - so much so

that Maskull had difficulty in keeping his balance.  He therefore

threw himself down and started swimming on the face of the water.

Joiwind turned her head, and laughed so joyously that all her teeth

flashed in the sunlight.

 

They landed in a few more minutes on a promontory of black rock.  The

water on Maskull's garment and body evaporated very quickly.  He

gazed upward at the towering mountain, but at that moment some

strange movements on the part of Panawe attracted his attention.  His

face was working convulsively, and he began to stagger about.  Then

he put his hand to his mouth and took from it what looked like a

bright - coloured pebble.  He looked at it carefully for some

seconds.  Joiwind also looked, over his shoulder, with quickly

changing colors.  After this inspection, Panawe let the object -

whatever it was - fall to the ground, and took no more interest in

it.

 

"May I look?" asked Maskull; and, without waiting for permission, he

picked it up.  It was a delicately beautiful egg - shaped crystal of

pale green.

 

"Where did this come from?" he asked queerly.

 

Panawe turned away, but Joiwind answered for him.  "It came out of my

husband."

 

"That's what I thought, but I couldn't believe it.  But what is it?"

 

"I don't know that it has either name or use.  It is merely an

overflowing of beauty."

 

"Beauty?"

 

Joiwind smiled.  "If you were to regard nature as the husband, and

Panawe as the wife, Maskull, perhaps everything would be explained."

 

Maskull reflected.

 

"On Earth," he said after a minute, "men like Panawe are called

artists, poets, and musicians.  Beauty overflows into them too, and

out of them again.  The only distinction is that their productions

are more human and intelligible."

 

"Nothing comes from it but vanity," said Panawe, and, taking the

crystal out of Maskull's hand, he threw it into the lake.

 

The precipice they now had to climb was several hundred feet in

height.  Maskull was more anxious for Joiwind than for himself.  She

was evidently tiring, but she refused all help, and was in fact still

the nimbler of the two.  She made a mocking face at him.  Panawe

seemed lost in quiet thoughts.  The rock was sound, and did not

crumble under their weight.  The heat of Branchspell, however, was by

this time almost killing, the radiance was shocking in its white

intensity, and Maskull's pain steadily grew worse.

 

When they got to the top, a plateau of dark rock appeared, bare of

vegetation, stretching in both directions as far as the eye could

see.  It was of a nearly uniform width of five hundred yards, from

the edge of the cliffs to the lower slopes of the chain of hills

inland.  The hills varied in height.  The cup - shaped Poolingdred

was approximately a thousand feet above them.  The upper part of it

was covered with a kind of glittering vegetation which he could not

comprehend.

 

Joiwind put her hand on Maskull's shoulder, and pointed upward.

"Here you have the highest peak in the whole land - that is, until

you come to the Ifdawn Marest."

 

On hearing that strange name, he experienced a momentary

unaccountable sensation of wild vigour and restlessness - but it

passed away.

 

Without losing time, Panawe led the way up the mountainside.  The

lower half was of bare rock, not difficult to climb.  Halfway up,

however, it grew steeper, and they began to meet bushes and small

trees.  The growth became thicker as they continued to ascend, and

when they neared the summit, tall forest trees appeared.

 

These bushes and trees had pale, glassy trunks and branches, but the

small twigs and the leaves were translucent and crystal.  They cast

no shadows from above, but still the shade was cool.  Both leaves and

branches were fantastically shaped.  What surprised Maskull the most,

however, was the fact that, as far as he could see, scarcely any two

plants belonged to the same species.

 

"Won't you help Maskull out of his difficulty?" said Joiwind, pulling

her husband's arm.

 

He smiled.  "If he'll forgive me for again trespassing in his brain.

But the difficulty is small.  Life on a new planet, Maskull, is

necessarily energetic and lawless, and not sedate and imitative.

Nature is still fluid - not yet rigid - and matter is plastic.  The

will forks and sports incessantly, and thus no two creatures are

alike."

 

"Well, I understand all that," replied Maskull, after listening

attentively.  "But what I don't grasp is this - if living creatures

here sport so energetically, how does it come about that human beings

wear much the same shape as in my world?"

 

"I'll explain that too," said Panawe.  "All creatures that resemble

Shaping must of necessity resemble one another."

 

"Then sporting is the blind will to become like Shaping?"

 

"Exactly."

 

"It is most wonderful," said Maskull.  "Then the brotherhood of man

is not a fable invented by idealists, but a solid fact."

 

Joiwind looked at him, and changed colour.  Panawe relapsed into

sternness.

 

Maskull became interested in a new phenomenon.  The jale - coloured

blossoms of a crystal bush were emitting mental waves, which with his

breve he could clearly distinguish.  They cried out silently, "To me

To me!" While he looked, a flying worm guided itself through the air

to one of these blossoms and began to suck its nectar.  The floral

cry immediately ceased.

 

They now gained the crest of the mountain, and looked down beyond.  A

lake occupied its crater - like cavity.  A fringe of trees partly

intercepted the view, but Maskull was able to perceive that this

mountain lake was nearly circular and perhaps a quarter of a mile

across.  Its shore stood a hundred feet below them.

 

Observing that his hosts did not propose to descend, he begged them

to wait for him, and scrambled down to the surface.  When he got

there, he found the water perfectly motionless and of a colourless

transparency.  He walked onto it, lay down at full length, and peered

into the depths.  It was weirdly clear: he could see down for an

indefinite distance, without arriving at any bottom.  Some dark,

shadowy objects, almost out of reach of his eyes, were moving about.

Then a sound, very faint and mysterious, seemed to come up through

the gnawl water from an immense depth.  It was like the rhythm of a

drum.  There were four beats of equal length, but the accent was on

the third.  It went on for a considerable time, and then ceased.

 

The sound appeared to him. to belong to a different world from that

in which he was travelling.  The latter was mystical, dreamlike, and

unbelievable - the drumming was like a very dim undertone of reality.

It resembled the ticking of a clock in a room full of voices, only

occasionally possible to be picked up by the ear.

 

He rejoined Panawe and Joiwind, but said nothing to them about his

experience.  They all walked round the rim of the crater, and gazed

down on the opposite side.  Precipices similar to those that had

overlooked the desert here formed the boundary of a vast moorland

plain, whose dimensions could not be measured by the eye.  It was

solid land, yet he could not make out its prevailing colour.  It was

as if made of transparent glass, but it did not glitter in the

sunlight.  No objects in it could be distinguished, except a rolling

river in the far distance, and, farther off still, on the horizon, a

line of dark mountains, of strange shapes.  Instead of being rounded,

conical, or hogbacked, these heights were carved by nature into the

semblance of castle battlements, but with extremely deep

indentations.

The sky immediately above the mountains was of a vivid, intense blue.

It contrasted in a most marvellous way with the blue of the rest of

the heavens.  It seemed more luminous and radiant, and was in fact

like the afterglow of a gorgeous blue sunset.

 

Maskull kept on looking.  The more he gazed, the more restless and

noble became his feelings.  "What is that light?"

Panawe was sterner than usual, while his wife clung to his arm.  "It

is Alppain  - our second sun," he replied.  "Those hills are the

Ifdawn Marest.... Now let us get to our shelter."

 

"Is it imagination, or am I really being affected - tormented by that

light?"

 

"No, it's not imagination - it's real.  How can it be otherwise when

two suns, of different natures, are drawing you at the same time?

Luckily you are not looking at Alppain itself.  It's invisible here.

You would need to go at least as far as Ifdawn, to set eyes on it."

 

"Why do you say 'luckily'?"

 

"Because the agony caused by those opposing forces would perhaps be

more than you could bear.... But I don't know."

 

For the short distance that remained of their walk, Maskull was very

thoughtful and uneasy.  He understood nothing.  Whatever object his

eye chanced to rest on changed immediately into a puzzle.  The

silence and stillness of the mountain peak seemed brooding,

mysterious, and waiting.  Panawe gave him a friendly, anxious look,

and without further delay led the way down a little track, which

traversed the side of the mountain and terminated in the mouth of a

cave.

 

This cave was the home of Panawe and Joiwind.  It was dark inside.

The host took a shell and, filling it with liquid from a well,

carelessly sprinkled the sandy floor of the interior.  A greenish,

phosphorescent light gradually spread to the furthest limits of the

cavern, and continued to illuminate it for the whole time they were

there.  There was no furniture.  Some dried, fernlike leaves served

for couches.

 

The moment she got in, Joiwind fell down in exhaustion.  Her husband

tended her with calm concern.  He bathed her face, put drink to her

lips, energised her with his magn, and finally laid her down to

sleep.  At the sight of the noble woman thus suffering on his

account, Maskull was distressed.

 

Panawe, however, endeavoured to reassure him.  "It's quite true this

has been a very long, hard double journey, but for the future it will

lighten all her other journeys for her.... Such is the nature of

sacrifice."

 

"I can't conceive how I have walked so far in a morning," said

Maskull, "and she has been twice the distance."

 

"Love flows in her veins, instead of blood, and that's why she is so

strong."

 

"You know she gave me some of it?"

 

"Otherwise you couldn't even have started."

 

"I shall never forget that."

 

The languorous beat of the day outside, the bright mouth of the

cavern, the cool seclusion of the interior, with its pale green glow,

invited Maskull to sleep.  But curiosity got the better of his

lassitude.

 

"Will it disturb her if we talk?"

 

"No."

 

"But how do you feel?"

 

"I require little sleep.  In any case, it's more important that you

should hear something about your new life.  It's not all as innocent

and idyllic as this.  If you intend to go through, you ought to be

instructed about the dangers."

 

"Oh, I guessed as much.  But how shall we arrange - shall I put

questions, or will you tell me what you think is most essential?"

 

Panawe motioned to Maskull to sit down on a pile of ferns, and at the

same time reclined himself, leaning on one arm, with outstretched

legs.

 

"I will tell some incidents of my life.  You will begin to learn from

them what sort of place you have come to."

 

"I shall be grateful," said Maskull, preparing himself to listen.

 

Panawe paused for a moment or two, and then started his narrative in

tranquil, measured, yet sympathetic tones.

 

PANAWE'S STORY

 

"My earliest recollection is of being taken, when three years old

(that's equivalent to fifteen of your years, but we develop more

slowly here), by my father and mother, to see Broodviol, the wisest

man in Tormance.  He dwelt in the great Wombflash Forest.  We walked

through trees for three days, sleeping at night.  The trees grew

taller as we went along, until the tops were out of sight.  The

trunks were of a dark red colour and the leaves were of pale ulfire.

My father kept stopping to think.  If left uninterrupted, he would

remain for half a day in deep abstraction.  My mother came out of

Poolingdred, and was of a different stamp.  She was beautiful,

generous, and charming - but also active.  She kept urging him on.

This led to many disputes between them, which made me miserable.  On

the fourth day we passed through a part of the forest which bordered

on the Sinking Sea.  This sea is full of pouches of water that will

not bear a man's weight, and as these light parts don't differ in

appearance from the rest, it is dangerous to cross.  My father

pointed out a dim outline on the horizon, and told me it was

Swaylone's Island.  Men sometimes go there, but none ever return.  In

the evening of the same day we found Broodviol standing in a deep,

miry pit in the forest, surrounded on all sides by trees three

hundred feet high.  He was a big gnarled, rugged, wrinkled, sturdy

old man.  His age at that time was a hundred and twenty of our years,

or nearly six hundred of yours.  His body was trilateral: he had

three legs, three arms, and six eyes, placed at equal distances all

around his head.  This gave him an aspect of great watchfulness and

sagacity.  He was standing in a sort of trance.  I afterward heard

this saying of his: 'To lie is to sleep, to sit is to dream, to stand

is to think.' My father caught the infection, and fell into

meditation, but my mother roused them both thoroughly.  Broodviol

scowled at her savagely, and demanded what she required.  Then I too

learned for the first time the object of our journey.  I was a

prodigy - that is to say, I was without sex.  My parents were

troubled over this, and wished to consult the wisest of men.

 

"Old Broodviol smoothed his face, and said, 'This perhaps will not be

so difficult. I will explain the marvel.  Every man and woman among

us is a walking murderer.  If a male, he has struggled with and

killed the female who was born in the same body with him - if a

female, she has killed the male.  But in this child the struggle is

still continuing.'

 

"'How shall we end it?' asked my mother.

 

"'Let the child direct its will to the scene of the combat, and it

will be of whichever sex it pleases.'

 

"'You want, of course, to be a man, don't you?' said my mother to me

earnestly.

 

"'Then I shall be slaying your daughter, and that would be a crime.'

 

"Something in my tone attracted Broodviol's notice.

 

"'That was spoken, not selfishly, but magnanimously.  Therefore the

male must have spoken it, and you need not trouble further.  Before

you arrive home, the child will be a boy.'

 

"My father walked away out of sight.  My mother bent very low before

Broodviol for about ten minutes, and he remained all that time

looking kindly at her.

 

"I heard that shortly afterward Alppain came into that land for a few

hours daily.  Broodviol grew melancholy, and died.

 

"His prophecy came true - before we reached home, I knew the meaning

of shame.  But I have often pondered over his words since, in later

years, when trying to understand my own nature; and I have come to

the conclusion that, wisest of men as he was, he still did not see

quite straight on this occasion.  Between me and my twin sister,

enclosed in one body, there never was any struggle, but instinctive

reverence for life withheld both of us from fighting for existence.

Hers was the stronger temperament, and she sacrificed herself -

though not consciously - for me.

 

"As soon as I comprehended this, I made a vow never to eat or destroy

anything that contained life - and I have kept it ever since.

 

"While I was still hardly a grown man, my father died. My mother's

death followed immediately, and I hated the associations of the land.

I therefore made up my mind to travel into my mother's country,

where, as she had often told me, nature was most sacred and solitary.

 

"One hot morning I came to Shaping's Causeway.  It is so called

either because Shaping once crossed it, or because of its stupendous

character.  It is a natural embankment, twenty miles long, which

links the mountains bordering my homeland with the Ifdawn Marest.

The valley lies below at a depth varying from eight to ten thousand

feet - a terrible precipice on either side.  The knife edge of the

ridge is generally not much over a foot wide.  The causeway goes due

north and south.  The valley on my right hand was plunged in shadow -

that on my left was sparkling with sunlight and dew. I walked

fearfully along this precarious path for some miles.  Far to the east

the valley was closed by a lofty tableland, connecting the two chains

of mountains, but overtopping even the most towering pinnacles.  This

is called the Sant Levels. I was never there, but I have heard two

curious facts concerning the inhabitants.  The first is that they

have no women; the second, that though they are addicted to

travelling in other parts they never acquire habits of the peoples

with whom they reside.

 

"Presently I turned giddy, and lay at full length for a great while,

clutching the two edges of the path with both hands, and staring at

the ground I was lying on with wide - open eyes.  When that passed I

felt like a different man and grew conceited and gay.  About halfway

across I saw someone approaching me a long way off.  This put fear

into my heart again, for I did not see how we could very well pass.

However, I went slowly on, and presently we drew near enough together

for me to recognise the walker.  It was Slofork, the so - called

sorcerer. I had never met him before, but I knew him by his

peculiarities of person.  He was of a bright gamboge colour and

possessed a very long, proboscis - like nose, which appeared to be a

useful organ, but did not add to his beauty, as I knew beauty.  He

was dubbed 'sorcerer' from his wondrous skill in budding limbs and

organs.  The tale is told that one evening he slowly sawed his leg

off with a blunt stone and then lay for two days in agony while his

new leg was sprouting.  He was not reputed to be a consistently wise

man, but he had periodical flashes of penetration and audacity that

none could equal.

 

"We sat down and faced one another, about two yards apart.

 

"'Which of us walks over the other?' asked Slofork.  His manner was

as calm as the day itself, but, to my young nature, terrible with

hidden terrors. I smiled at him, but did not wish for this

humiliation.  We continued sitting thus, in a friendly way, for many

minutes.

 

"What is greater than Pleasure?' he asked suddenly.

 

"I was at an age when one wishes to be thought equal to any

emergency, so, concealing my surprise, I applied myself to the

conversation, as if it were for that purpose we had met.

 

"'Pain,' I replied, 'for pain drives out pleasure.'

 

'What is greater than Pain?'

"I reflected.  'Love.  Because we will accept our loved one's share

of pain.'

 

" 'But what is greater than Love?' he persisted.

 

"'Nothing, Slofork.'

 

"'And what is Nothing?'

 

"'That you must tell me.'

 

"'Tell you I will.  This is Shaping's world.  He that is a good child

here, knows pleasure, pain, and love, and gets his rewards.  But

there's another world - not Shaping's and there all this is unknown,

and another order of things reigns.  That world we call Nothing - but

it is not Nothing, but Something.'

 

"There was a pause.

 

"'I have heard,' said I, 'that you are good at growing and ungrowing

organs?'

 

"'That's not enough for me.  Every organ tells me the same story.  I

want to hear different stories.'

 

"'Is it true, what men say, that your wisdom flows and ebbs in

pulses?'

 

"'Quite true,' replied Slofork.  'But those you had it from did not

add that they have always mistaken the flow for the ebb.'

 

"'My experience is,' said I sententiously, 'that wisdom is misery.'

 

"' Perhaps it is, young man, but you have never learned that, and

never will.  For you the world will continue to wear a noble, awful

face.  You will never rise above mysticism.... But be happy in your

own way.'

 

"Before I realised what he was doing, he jumped tranquilly from the

path, down into the empty void.  He crashed with ever - increasing

momentum toward the valley below. I screeched, flung myself down on

the ground, and shut my eyes.

 

"Often have I wondered which of my ill - considered, juvenile remarks

it was that caused this sudden resolution on his part to commit

suicide.  Whichever it might be, since then I have made it a rigid

law never to speak for my own pleasure, but only to help others.

 

"I came eventually to the Marest.  I threaded its mazes in terror for

four days. I was frightened of death, but still more terrified at the

possibility of losing my sacred attitude toward life.  When I was

nearly through, and was beginning to congratulate myself, I stumbled

across the third extraordinary personage of my experience - the grim

Muremaker.  It was under horrible circumstances.  On an afternoon,

cloudy and stormy, I saw, suspended in the air without visible

support, a living man.  He was hanging in an upright position in

front of a cliff - a yawning gulf, a thousand feet deep, lay beneath

his feet.  I climbed as near as I could, and looked on.  He saw me,

and made a wry grimace, like one who wishes to turn his humiliation

into humour.  The spectacle so astounded me that I could not even

grasp what had happened.

 

"'I am Muremaker," he cried in a scraping voice which shocked my

ears.  'All my life I have sorbed others - now I am sorbed.  Nuclamp

and I fell out over a woman.  Now Nuclamp holds me up like this.

While the strength of his will lasts I shall remain suspended; but

when he gets tired - and it can't be long now - I drop into those

depths.'

 

"Had it been another man, I would have tried to save him, but this

ogre - like being was too well known to me as one who passed his

whole existence in tormenting, murdering, and absorbing others, for

the sake of his own delight. I hurried away, and did not pause again

that day.

 

"In Poolingdred I met Joiwind.  We walked and talked together for a

month, and by that time we found that we loved each other too well to

part."

 

Panawe stopped speaking.

 

"That is a fascinating story," remarked Maskull.  "Now I begin to

know my way around better.  But one thing puzzles me."

 

"What's that?"

 

"How it happens that men here are ignorant of tools and arts, and

have no civilisation, and yet contrive to be social in their habits

and wise in their thoughts."

 

"Do you imagine, then, that love and wisdom spring from tools?  But I

see how it arises.  In your world you have fewer sense organs, and to

make up for the deficiency you have been obliged to call in the

assistance of stones and metals.  That's by no means a sign of

superiority."

 

"No, I suppose not," said Maskull, "but I see I have a great deal to

unlearn."

 

They talked together a little longer, and then gradually fell asleep.

Joiwind opened her eyes, smiled, and slumbered again.

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

THE LUSION PLAIN

 

Maskull awoke before the others.  He got up, stretched himself, and

walked out into the sunlight.  Branchspell was already declining.  He

climbed to the top of the crater edge and looked away toward Ifdawn.

The afterglow of Alppain had by now completely disappeared.  The

mountains stood up wild and grand.

 

They impressed him like a simple musical theme, the notes of which

are widely separated in the scale; a spirit of rashness, daring, and

adventure seemed to call to him from them.  It was at that moment

that the determination flashed into his heart to walk to the Marest

and explore its dangers.

 

He returned to the cavern to say good - by to his hosts.

 

Joiwind looked at him with her brave and honest eyes.  "Is this

selfishness, Maskull?" she asked, "or are you drawn by something

stronger than yourself?"

 

"We must be reasonable," he answered, smiling.  "I can't settle down

in Poolingdred before I have found out something about this

surprising new planet of yours.  Remember what a long way I have

come.... But very likely I shall come back here."

 

"Will you make me a promise?"

 

Maskull hesitated.  "Ask nothing difficult, for I hardly know my

powers yet."

 

"It is not hard, and I wish it.  Promise this - never to raise your

hand against a living creature, either to strike, pluck, or eat,

without first recollecting its mother, who suffered for it."

 

"Perhaps I won't promise that," said Maskull slowly, "but I'll

undertake something more tangible. I will never lift my hand against

a living creature without first recollecting you, Joiwind."

 

She turned a little pale.  "Now if Panawe knew that Panawe existed,

he might be jealous."

 

Panawe put his hand on her gently.  "You would not talk like that in

Shaping's presence," he said.

 

"No.  Forgive me!  I'm not quite myself.  Perhaps it is Maskull's .

blood in my veins.... Now let us bid him adieu.  Let us pray that he

will do only honourable deeds, wherever he may be."

 

"I'll set Maskull on his way," said Panawe.

 

"There's no need," replied Maskull.  "The way is plain."

 

"But talking shortens the road."

 

Maskull turned to go.

 

Joiwind pulled him around toward her softly.  "You won't think badly

of other women on my account?"

 

"You are a blessed spirit," answered he.

 

She trod quietly to the inner extremity of the cave and stood there

thinking.  Panawe and Maskull emerged into the open air.

Halfway down the cliff face a little spring was encountered.  Its

water was colourless, transparent, but gaseous.  As soon as Maskull

had satisfied his thirst he felt himself different.  His surroundings

were so real to him in their vividness and colour, so unreal in their

phantom - like mystery, that he scrambled downhill like one in a

winter's dream.

 

When they reached the plain he saw in front of them an interminable

forest of tall trees, the shapes of which were extraordinarily

foreign looking.  The leaves were crystalline and, looking upward, it

was as if he were gazing through a roof of glass.  The moment they

got underneath the trees the light rays of the sun continued to come

through - white, savage, and blazing - but they were gelded of heat.

Then it was not hard to imagine that they were wandering through

cool, bright elfin glades.

 

Through the forest, beginning at their very feet an avenue, perfectly

straight and not very wide, went forward as far as the eye could see.

 

Maskull wanted to talk to his travelling companion, but was somehow

unable to find words.  Panawe glanced at him with an inscrutable

smile - stern, yet enchanting and half feminine.  He then broke the

silence, but, strangely enough, Maskull could not make out whether he

was singing or speaking.  From his lips issued a slow musical

recitative, exactly like a bewitching adagio from a low toned

stringed instrument - but there was a difference.  Instead of the

repetition and variation of one or two short themes, as in music,

Panawe's theme was prolonged - it never came to an end, but rather

resembled a conversation in rhythm and melody.  And, at the same

time, it was no recitative, for it was not declamatory.  It was a

long, quiet stream of lovely emotion.

 

Maskull listened entranced, yet agitated.  The song, if it might be

termed song, seemed to be always just on the point of becoming clear

and intelligible - not with the intelligibility of words, but in the

way one sympathises with another's moods and feelings; and Maskull

felt that something important was about to be uttered, which would

explain all that had gone before.  But it was invariably postponed,

he never understood - and yet somehow he did understand.

 

Late in the afternoon they came to a clearing, and there Panawe

ceased his recitative.  He slowed his pace and stopped, in the

fashion of a man who wishes to convey that he intends to go no

farther.

 

"What is the name of this country?" asked Maskull.

 

"It is the Lusion Plain."

 

"Was that music in the nature of a temptation - do you wish me not to

go on?"

 

"Your work lies before you,. and not behind you.'

 

"What was it, then?  What work do you allude to?"

 

"It must have seemed like something to you, Maskull."

 

"It seemed like Shaping music to me."

 

The instant he had absently uttered these words, Maskull wondered why

he had done so, as they now appeared meaningless to him.

 

Panawe, however, showed no surprise.  "Shaping you will find

everywhere."

 

"Am I dreaming, or awake?"

 

"You are awake."

 

Maskull fell into deep thought.  "So be it," he said, rousing

himself.  "Now I will go on.  But where must I sleep tonight?"

 

"You will reach a broad river.  On that you can travel to the foot of

the Marest tomorrow; but tonight you had better sleep where the

forest and river meet."

 

"Adieu, then, Panawe!  But do you wish to say anything more to me?"

 

"Only this, Maskull - wherever you go, help to make the world

beautiful, and not ugly."

 

"That's more than any of us can undertake.  I am a simple man, and

have no ambitions in the way of beautifying life - But tell Joiwind I

will try to keep myself pure."

 

They parted rather coldly.  Maskull stood erect where they had

stopped, and watched Panawe out of sight.  He sighed more than once.

 

He became aware that something was about to happen.  The air was

breathless.  The late - afternoon sunshine, unobstructed, wrapped his

frame in voluptuous heat.  A solitary cloud, immensely high, raced

through the sky overhead.

 

A single trumpet note sounded in the far distance from somewhere

behind him.  It gave him an impression of being several miles away at

first; but then it slowly swelled, and came nearer and nearer at the

same time that it increased in volume.  Still the same note sounded,

but now it was as if blown by a giant trumpeter immediately over his

head.  Then it gradually diminished in force, and  travelled away in

front of him.  It ended very faintly and distantly.

 

He felt himself alone with Nature.  A sacred stillness came over his

heart.  Past and future were forgotten.  The forest, the sun, the day

did not exist for him.  He was unconscious of himself - he had no

thoughts and no feelings.  Yet never had Life had such an altitude

for him.

 

A man stood, with crossed arms, right in his path.  He was so clothed

that his limbs were exposed, while his body was covered.  He was

young rather than old.  Maskull observed that his countenance

possessed none of the special organs of Tormance, to which he had not

even yet become reconciled.  He was smooth - faced.  His whole person

seemed to radiate an excess of life, like the trembling of air on a

hot day.  His eyes had such force that Maskull could not meet them.

 

He addressed Maskull by name, in an extraordinary voice.  It had a

double tone.  The primary one sounded far away; the second was an

undertone, like a sympathetic tanging string.

 

Maskull felt a rising joy, as he continued standing in the presence

of this individual.  He believed that something good was happening to

him.  He found it physically difficult to bring any words out.  "Why

do you stop me?"

 

"Maskull, look well at me.  Who am I?"

 

"I think you are Shaping."

 

"I am Surtur."

 

Maskull again attempted to meet his eyes, but felt as if he were

being stabbed.

 

"You know that this is my world.  Why do you think I have brought you

here? I wish you to serve me."

 

Maskull could no longer speak.

 

"Those who joke at my world," continued the vision, "those who make a

mock of its stern, eternal rhythm, its beauty and sublimity, which

are not skin - deep, but proceed from fathomless roots - they shall

not escape."

 

"I do not mock it."

 

"Ask me your questions, and I will answer them."

 

"I have nothing."

 

"It is. necessary for you to serve me,  Maskull.  Do you not

understand?  You are my servant and helper."

 

"I shall not fail."

 

"This is for my sake, and not for yours."

 

These last words had no sooner left Surtur's mouth than Maskull saw

him spring suddenly upward and outward.  Looking up at the vault of

the sky, he saw the whole expanse of vision filled by Surtur's form -

not as a concrete man, but as a vast, concave cloud image, looking

down and frowning at him.  Then the spectacle vanished, as a light

goes out.

 

Maskull stood inactive, with a thumping heart.  Now he again heard

the solitary trumpet note.  The sound began this time faintly in the

far distance in front of him, travelled slowly toward him with

regularly increasing intensity, passed overhead at its loudest, and

then grew more and more quiet, wonderful, and solemn, as it fell away

in the rear, until the note was merged in the deathlike silence of

the forest.  It appeared to Maskull like the closing of a marvellous

and important chapter.

 

Simultaneously with the fading away of the sound, the heavens seemed

to open up with the rapidity of lightning into a blue vault of

immeasurable height.  He breathed a great breath, stretched all his

limbs, and looked around him with a slow smile.

 

After a while he resumed his journey.  His brain was all dark and

confused, but one idea was already beginning to stand out from the

rest - huge, shapeless, and grand, like the growing image in the soul

of a creative artist: the staggering thought that he was a man of

destiny.

 

The more he reflected upon all that had occurred since his arrival in

this new world - and even before leaving Earth - the clearer and more

indisputable it became, that he could not be here for his own

purposes, but must be here for an end.  But what that end was, he

could not imagine.

Through the forest he saw Branchspell at last sinking in the west.

It looked a stupendous ball of red fire - now he could realise at his

ease what a sun it was!  The avenue took an abrupt turn to the left

and began to descend steeply.

 

A wide, rolling river of clear and dark water was visible in front of

him, no great way off.  It flowed from north to south.  The forest

path led him straight to its banks.  Maskull stood there, and

regarded the lapping, gurgling waters pensively.  On the opposite

bank, the forest continued.  Miles to the south, Poolingdred could

just be distinguished.  On the northern skyline the Ifdawn Mountains

loomed up - high, wild, beautiful, and dangerous.  They were not a

dozen miles away.

 

Like the first mutterings of a thunderstorm, the first faint breaths

of cool wind, Maskull felt the stirrings of passion in his heart.  In

spite of his bodily fatigue, he in wished to test his strength

against something.  This craving he identified with the crags of the

Marest.  They seemed to have the same magical attraction for his will

as the lodestone for iron.  He kept biting his nails, as he turned

his eyes in that direction - wondering if it would not be possible to

conquer the heights that evening.  But when he glanced back again at

Poolingdred, he remembered Joiwind and Panawe, and grew more

tranquil.  He decided to make his bed at this spot, and to set off as

soon after daybreak as he should awake.

 

He drank at the river, washed himself, and lay down on the bank to

sleep.  By this time, so far had his idea progressed, that he cared

nothing for the possible dangers of the night - he confided in his

star.

 

Branchspell set, the day faded, night with its terrible weight came

on, and through it all Maskull slept.  Long before midnight, however,

he was awakened by a crimson glow in the sky.  He opened his eyes,

and wondered where he was.  He felt heaviness and pain.  The red glow

was a terrestrial phenomenon; it came from among the trees.  He got

up and went toward the source of the light.

 

Away from the river, not a hundred feet off, he nearly stumbled

across the form of a sleeping woman.  The object which emitted the

crimson rays was lying on the ground, several yards away from her.

It was like a small jewel, throwing off sparks of red light.  He

barely threw a glance at that, however.

 

The woman was clothed in the large skin of an animal.  She had big,

smooth, shapely limbs, rather muscular than fat.  Her magn was not a

thin tentacle, but a third arm, terminating in a hand.  Her face,

which was upturned, was wild, powerful, and exceedingly handsome.

But he saw with surprise that in place of a breve on her forehead,

she possessed another eye.  All three were closed.  The colour of her

skin in the crimson glow he could not distinguish.

He touched her gently with his hand.  She awoke calmly and looked up

at him without stirring a muscle.  All three eyes stared at him; but

the two lower ones were dull and vacant - mere carriers of vision.

The middle, upper one alone expressed her inner nature.  Its haughty,

unflinching glare had yet something seductive and alluring in it.

Maskull felt a challenge in that look of lordly, feminine will, and

his manner instinctively stiffened.

 

She sat up.

 

"Can you speak my language?" he asked.  "I wouldn't put such a

question, but others have been able to."

 

"Why should you imagine that I can't read your mind?  Is it so

extremely complex?"

 

She spoke in a rich, lingering, musical voice, which delighted him to

listen to.

 

"No, but you have no breve."

 

"Well, but haven't I a sorb, which is better?" And she pointed to the

eye on her brow.

 

"What is your name?"

 

"Oceaxe."

 

"And where do you come from?"

 

"Ifdawn."

 

These contemptuous replies began to irritate him, and yet the mere

sound of her voice was fascinating.

 

"I am going there tomorrow," he remarked.

 

She laughed, as if against her will, but made no comment.

 

"My name is Maskull," he went on.  "I am a stranger - from another

world."

 

"So I should judge, from your absurd appearance."

 

"Perhaps it would be as well to say at once," said Maskull bluntly,

"are we, or are we not, to be friends?"

 

She yawned and stretched her arms, without rising.  "Why should we be

friends?  If I thought you were a man, I might accept you as a

lover."

 

"You must look elsewhere for that."

 

"So be it, Maskull!  Now go away, and leave me in peace."

 

She dropped her head again to the ground, but did not at on close her

eyes.

 

"What are you doing here?" he interrogated.

 

"Oh, we Ifdawn folk occasionally come here to sleep, for there often

enough it is a night for us which has no next morning."

 

"Being such a terrible place, and seeing that I am a total stranger,

it would be merely courteous if you were to warn me what I have to

expect in the way of dangers."

 

"I am perfectly and utterly indifferent to what becomes of you,"

retorted Oceaxe.

 

"Are you returning in the morning?" persisted Maskull.

 

"If I wish."

 

"Then we will go together."

 

She got up again on her elbow.  "Instead of making plans for other

people, I would do a very necessary thing."

 

"Pray, tell me."

 

"Well, there's no reason why I should, but I will. I would try to

convert my women's organs into men's organs.  It is a man's country."

 

"Speak more plainly."

 

"Oh, it's plain enough.  If you attempt to pass through Ifdawn

without a sorb, you are simply committing suicide.  And that magn too

is worse than useless."

 

"You probably know what you are talking about, Oceaxe.  But what do

you advise me to do?"

 

She negligently pointed to the light-emitting stone lying on the

ground.

 

"There is the solution.  If you hold that drude to your organs for a

good while, perhaps it will start the change, and perhaps nature will

do the rest during the night. I promise nothing."

 

Oceaxe now really turned her back on Maskull.

 

He considered for a few minutes, and then walked over and to where

the stone was lying, and took it in his hand.  It was a pebble the

size of a hen's egg, radiant with crimson light, as though red-hot,

and throwing out a continuous shower of small, blood-red sparks.

 

Finally deciding that Oceaxe's advice was good, he applied the drude

first to his magn, and then to his breve.  He experienced a

cauterising sensation - a feeling of healing pain.

 

 

 

Chapter 9

 

OCEAXE

 

Maskull's second day on Tormance dawned.  Branchspell was already

above the horizon when he awoke.  He was instantly aware that his

organs had changed during the night.  His fleshy breve was altered

into an eyelike sorb; his magn had swelled and developed into a third

arm, springing from the breast.  The arm gave him at once a sense of

greater physical security, but with the sorb he was obliged to

experiment, before he could grasp its function.

 

As he lay there in the white sunlight, opening and shutting each of

his three eyes in turn, he found that the two lower ones served his

understanding, the upper one his will.  That is to say, with the

lower eyes he saw things in clear detail, but without personal

interest; with the sorb he saw nothing as self - existent  -

everything appeared as an object of importance or non - importance to

his own needs.

 

Rather puzzled as to how this would turn out, he got up and looked

about him.  He had slept out of sight of Oceaxe.  He was anxious to

learn if she were still on the spot, but before going to ascertain he

made up his mind to bathe in the river.

 

It was a glorious morning.  The hot white sun already began to glare,

but its heat was tempered by a strong wind, which whistled through

the trees.  A host of fantastic clouds filled the sky.  They looked

like animals, and were always changing shape.  The ground, as well as

the leaves and branches of the forest trees, still held traces of

heavy dew or rain during the night.  A poignantly sweet smell of

nature entered his nostrils.  His pain was quiescent, and his spirits

were high.

 

Before he bathed, he viewed the mountains of the Ifdawn Marest.  In

the morning sunlight they stood out pictorially.  He guessed that

they were from five to six thousand feet high.  The lofty, irregular,

castellated line seemed like the walls of a magic city.  The cliffs

fronting him were composed of gaudy rocks - vermilion, emerald,

yellow, ulfire, and black.  As he gazed at them, his heart began to

beat like a slow, heavy drum, and he thrilled all over -

indescribable hopes, aspirations, and emotions came over him.  It was

more than the conquest of a new world which he felt - it was

something different....

 

He bathed and drank, and as he was reclothing himself, Oceaxe

strolled indolently up.

 

He could now perceive the colour of her skin - it was a vivid, yet

delicate mixture of carmine, white, and jale.  The effect was

startlingly unearthly.  With these new colors she looked like a

genuine representative of a strange planet.  Her frame also had

something curious about it.  The curves were womanly, the bones were

characteristically female  - yet all seemed somehow to express a

daring, masculine underlying will.  The commanding eye on her

forehead set the same puzzle in plainer language.  Its bold,

domineering egotism was shot with undergleams of sex and softness.

 

She came to the river's edge and reviewed him from top to toe.  "Now

you are built more like a man," she said, in her lovely, lingering

voice.

 

"You see, the experiment was successful," he answered, smiling gaily.

 

Oceaxe continued looking him over.  "Did some woman give you that

ridiculous robe?"

 

"A woman did give it to me" - dropping his smile -  "but I saw

nothing ridiculous in the gift at the time, and I don't now."

 

"I think I'd look better in it."

 

As she drawled the words, she began stripping off the skin, which

suited her form so well, and motioned to him to exchange garments.

He obeyed, rather shamefacedly, for he realised that the proposed

exchange was in fact more appropriate to his sex.  He found the skin

a freer dress. Oceaxe in her drapery appeared more dangerously

feminine to him.

 

"I don't want you to receive gifts at all from other women," she

remarked slowly.

 

"Why not?  What can I be to you?"

 

"I have been thinking about you during the night." Her voice was

retarded, scornful, viola - like.  She sat down on the trunk of a

fallen tree, and looked away.

 

"In what way?"

 

She returned no answer to his question, but began to pull off pieces

of the bark.

 

"Last night you were so contemptuous."

 

"Last night is not today.  Do you always walk through the world with

your head over your shoulder?"

 

It was now Maskull's turn to be silent.

 

"Still, if you have male instincts, as I suppose you have, you can't

go on resisting me forever."

 

"But this is preposterous" said Maskull, opening his eyes wide.

"Granted that you are a beautiful woman - we can't be quite so

primeval."

 

Oceaxe sighed, and rose to her feet.  "It doesn't matter.  I can

wait."

 

"From that I gather that you intend to make the journey in my

society.  I have no objection - in fact I shall be glad - but only on

condition that you drop this language."

 

"Yet you do think me beautiful?"

 

"Why shouldn't I think so, if it is the fact?  I fail to see what

that has to do with my feelings.  Bring it to an end, Oceaxe.  You

will find plenty of men to admire - and love you."

 

At that she blazed up.  "Does love pick and choose, you fool?  Do you

imagine I am so hard put to it that I have to hunt for lovers?  Is

not Crimtyphon waiting for me at this very moment?"

 

"Very well. I am sorry to have hurt your feelings.  Now carry the

temptation no farther - for it is a temptation, where a lovely woman

is concerned. I am not my own master."

 

"I'm not proposing anything so very hateful, am I?  Why do you

humiliate me so?"

 

Maskull put his hands behind his back.  "I repeat, I am not my own

master."

 

"Then who is your master?"

 

"Yesterday I saw Surtur, and from today I am serving him."

 

"Did you speak with him?" she asked curiously.

 

"I did."

 

"Tell me what he said."

 

'No, I can't - I won't.  But whatever he said, his beauty was more

tormenting than yours, Oceaxe, and that's why I can look at you in

cold blood."

 

"Did Surtur forbid you to be a man?"

 

Maskull frowned.  "Is love such a manly sport, then?  I should have

thought it effeminate."

 

"It doesn't matter.  You won't always be so boyish.  But don't try my

patience too far."

 

"Let us talk about something else - and, above all, let' us get on

our road."

 

She suddenly broke into a laugh, so rich, sweet, and enchanting, that

he grew half inflamed, and half wished to catch her body in his arms.

"Oh, Maskull, Maskull - what a fool you are!"

 

"In what way am I a fool?" he demanded, scowling not at her words,

but at his own weakness.

 

"Isn't the whole world the handiwork of innumerable pairs of lovers?

And yet you think yourself above all that.  You try to fly away from

nature, but where will you find a hole to hide yourself in?"

 

"Besides beauty, I now credit you with a second quality:

persistence."

 

"Read me well, and then it is natural law that you'll think twice and

three times before throwing me away.. .. And now, before we go, we

had better eat."

 

"Eat?" said Maskull thoughtfully.

 

"Don't you eat?  Is food in the same category as love?"

 

"What food is it?"

 

"Fish from the river."

 

Maskull recollected his promise to Joiwind.  At the same time, he

felt hungry.

 

"Is there nothing milder?"

 

She pulled her mouth scornfully.  "You came through Poolingdred,

didn't you?  All the people there are the same.  They think life is

to be looked at, and not lived.  Now that you are visiting Ifdawn,

you will have to change your notions."

 

"Go catch your fish," he returned, pulling down his brows.

 

The broad, clear waters flowed past them with swelling undulations,

from the direction of the mountains.  Oceaxe knelt down on the bank,

and peered into the depths.  Presently her look became tense and

concentrated; she dipped her hand in and pulled out some sort of

little monster.  It was more like a reptile than a fish, with its

scaly plates and teeth.  She threw it on the ground, and it started

crawling about.  Suddenly she darted all her will into her sorb.  The

creature leaped into the air, and fell down dead.

 

She picked up a sharp - edged slate, and with it removed the scales

and entrails.  During this operation, her hands and garment became

stained with the light scarlet blood.

 

"Find the drude, Maskull," she said, with a lazy smile.  "You had it

last night."

 

He searched for it.  It was hard to locate, for its rays had grown

dull and feeble in the sunlight, but at last he found it. Oceaxe

placed it in the interior of the monster, and left the body lying on

the ground.

 

"While it's cooking, I'll wash some of this blood away, which

frightens you so much.  Have you never seen blood before?"

 

Maskull gazed at her in perplexity.  The old paradox came back - the

contrasting sexual characteristics in her person.  Her bold,

masterful, masculine egotism of manner seemed quite incongruous with

the fascinating and disturbing femininity of her voice.  A startling

idea flashed into his mind.

 

"In your country I'm told there is an act of will called 'absorbing.'

What is that?"

 

She held her red, dripping hands away from her draperies, and uttered

a delicious, clashing laugh.  "You think I am half a man?"

 

"Answer my question."

 

"I'm a woman through and through, Maskull - to the marrowbone.  But

that's not to say I have never absorbed males."

 

"And that means ..

 

"New strings for my harp, Maskull.  A wider range of passions, a

stormier heart ..."

 

"For you, yes - But for them ... ?"

 

"I don't know.  The victims don't describe their experiences.

Probably unhappiness of some sort - if they still know anything."

 

"This is a fearful business!" he exclaimed, regarding her gloomily.

"One would think Ifdawn a land of devils."

 

Oceaxe gave a beautiful sneer. as she took a step toward the river.

"Better men than you - better in every sense of the word - are

walking about with foreign wills inside them.  You may be as moral as

you like, Maskull, but the fact remains, animals were made to be

eaten, and simple natures were made to be absorbed."

 

"And human rights count for nothing!"

 

She had bent over the river's edge, to wash her arms and hands, but

glanced up over her shoulder to answer his remark.  "They do count.

But we only regard a m an as human for just as long as he's able to

hold his own with others."

 

The flesh was soon cooked, and they breakfasted in silence.  Maskull

cast heavy, doubtful glances from time to time toward his companion.

Whether it was due to the strange quality of the food, or to his long

abstention, he did not know, but the meal tasted nauseous, and even

cannibalistic.  He ate little, and the moment he got up he felt

defiled.

 

"Let me bury this drude, where I can find it some other time," said

Oceaxe.  "On the next occasion, though, I shall have no Maskull with

me, to shock.... Now we have to take to the river."

 

They stepped off the land onto the water.  It flowed against them

with a sluggish current, but the opposition, instead of hindering

them, had the contrary effect - it caused them to exert themselves,

and they moved faster.  They climbed the river in this way for

several miles.  The exercise gradually improved the circulation of

Maskull's blood, and he began to look at things in a far more way.

The hot sunshine, the diminished wind, the cheerful marvellous cloud

scenery, the quiet, crystal forests-all was soothing and delightful.

They approached nearer and  nearer to the gaily painted heights of

Ifdawn.

 

There was something enigmatic to him in those bright walls.  He was

attracted by them, yet felt a sort of awe.  They looked real, but at

the same time very supernatural.  If one could see the portrait of a

ghost, painted with a hard, firm outline, in substantial colors, the

feelings produced by such a sight would be exactly similar to

Maskull's impressions as he studied the Ifdawn precipices.

 

He broke the long silence.  "Those mountains have most extraordinary

shapes.  All the lines are straight and perpendicular - no slopes or

curves."

 

She walked backward on the water, in order to face him.  "That's

typical of Ifdawn.  Nature is all hammer blows with us.  Nothing soft

and gradual."

 

"I hear you, but I don't understand you."

 

"All over the Marest you'll find patches of ground plunging down or

rushing up.  Trees grow fast.  Women and men don't think twice before

acting.  One may call Ifdawn a place of quick decisions."

 

Maskull was impressed.  "A fresh, wild, primitive land."

 

"How is it where you come from?" asked Oceaxe.

 

"Oh, mine is a decrepit world, where nature takes a hundred years to

move a foot of solid land.  Men and animals go about in flocks.

Originality is a lost habit."

 

"Are there women there?"

 

"As with you, and not very differently formed."

 

"Do they love?"

 

He laughed.  "So much so that it has changed the dress, speech, and

thoughts of the whole sex."

 

"Probably they are more beautiful than 1?"

 

"No, I think not," said Maskull.

 

There was another rather long silence, as they travelled unsteadily

onward.

 

"What is your business in Ifdawn?" demanded Oceaxe suddenly.

 

He hesitated over his answer.  "Can you grasp that it's possible to

have an aim right in front of one, so big that one can't see it as a

whole?"

 

She stole a long, inquisitive look at him, "What sort of aim?"

 

"A moral aim."

 

"Are you proposing to set the world right?"

 

"I propose nothing - I am waiting."

 

"Don't wait too long, for time doesn't wait - especially in Ifdawn."

 

"Something will happen," said Maskull.

 

Oceaxe threw a subtle smile.  "So you have no special destination in

the Marest?"

 

"No, and if you'll permit me, I will come home with you."

 

"Singular man!" she said, with a short, thrilling laugh.  "That's

what I have been offering all the time.  Of course you will come home

with me.  As for Crimtyphon .. ."

 

"You mentioned that name before.  Who is he?"

 

"Oh!  My lover, or, as you would say, my husband."

 

"This doesn't improve matters," said Maskull.

 

"It leaves them exactly where they were.  We merely have to remove

him."

 

"We are certainly misunderstanding each other," said Maskull, quite

startled.  "Do you by any chance imagine that I am making a compact

with you?"

 

"You will do nothing against your will.  But you have promised to

come home with me."

 

"Tell me, how do you remove husbands in Ifdawn?"

 

"Either you or I must kill him."

 

He eyed her for a full minute.  "Now we are passing from folly to

insanity."

 

"Not at all," replied Oceaxe. "It is the too - sad truth.  And when

you have seen Crimtyphon, you will realise it."

 

"I'm aware I am on a strange planet," said Maskull slowly, "where all

sorts of unheard of things may happen, and where the very laws of

morality may be different.  Still as far as I am concerned, murder is

murder, and I'll have no more to do with a woman who wants to make

use of me, to get rid of her husband."

 

"You think me wicked?" demanded Oceaxe steadily.

 

"Or mad."

 

"Then you had better leave me, Maskull  -  only  -  "

 

"Only what?"

 

"You wish to be consistent, don't you?  Leave all other mad and

wicked people as well. Then you'll find it easier to reform the

rest."

 

Maskull frowned, but said nothing.

 

"Well?" demanded Oceaxe, with a half smile.

 

"I'll come with you, and I'll see Crimtyphon - if only to warn him."

 

Oceaxe broke into a cascade of rich, feminine laughter, but whether

at the image conjured up by Maskull's last words, or from some other

cause, he did not know.  The conversation dropped.

 

At a distance of a couple of miles from the now towering cliffs, the

river made a sharp, right - angled turn to the west, and was no

longer of use to them on their journey.  Maskull stared up

doubtfully.

 

"It's a stiff climb for a hot morning."

 

"Let's rest here a little," said she, indicating a smooth flat island

of black rock, standing up just out of the water in the middle of the

river.

 

They accordingly went to it, and Maskull sat down.  Oceaxe, however,

standing graceful and erect, turned her face toward the cliffs

opposite, and uttered a piercing and peculiar call.

 

"What is that for?" She did not answer.  After waiting a minute, she

repeated the call.  Maskull now saw a large bird detach itself from

the top of one of the precipices, and sail slowly down toward them.

It was followed by two others.  The flight of these birds was

exceedingly slow and clumsy.

 

"What are they?" he asked.

 

She still returned no answer, but smiled rather peculiarly and sat

down beside him.  Before many minutes he was able to distinguish the

shapes and colors of the flying monsters.  They were not birds, but

creatures with long, snakelike bodies, and ten reptilian legs apiece,

terminating in fins which acted as wings.  The bodies were of bright

blue, the legs and fins were yellow.  They were flying, without

haste, but in a somewhat ominous fashion, straight toward them.  He

could make out a long, thin spike projecting from each of the heads.

 

"They are shrowks," explained Oceaxe at last.  "If you want to know

their intention, I'll tell you.  To make a meal of us.  First of all

their spikes will pierce us, and then their mouths, which are really

suckers, will drain us dry of blood - pretty thoroughly too; there

are no half measures with shrowks.  They are toothless beasts, so

don't eat flesh."

 

"As you show such admirable sangfroid," said Maskull dryly, "I take

it there's no particular danger."

 

Nevertheless he instinctively tried to get on to his feet and failed.

A new form of paralysis was chaining him to the ground.

 

"Are you trying to get up?" asked Oceaxe smoothly.

 

"Well, yes, but those cursed reptiles seem to be nailing me down to

the rock with their wills.  May I ask if you had any special object

in view in waking them up?"

 

"I assure you the danger is quite real, Maskull.  Instead of talking

and asking questions, you had much better see what you can do with

your will."

 

"I seem to have no will, unfortunately."

 

Oceaxe was seized with a paroxysm of laughter, but it was still rich

and beautiful.  "It's obvious you aren't a very heroic protector,

Maskull.  It seems I must play the man, and you the woman. I expected

better things of your big body.  Why, my husband would send those

creatures dancing all around the sky, by way of a joke, before

disposing of them.  Now watch me.. Two of the three I'll kill; the

third we will ride home on.  Which one shall we keep?"

 

The shrowks continued their slow, wobbling flight toward them.  Their

bodies were of huge size.  They produced in Maskull the same

sensation of loathing as insects did.  He instinctively understood

that as they hunted with their wills, there was no necessity for them

to possess a swift motion.

 

"Choose which you please," he said shortly.  "They are equally

objectionable to me."

 

"Then I'll choose the leader, as it is presumably the most energetic

animal.  Watch now."

 

She stood upright, and her sorb suddenly blazed with fire.  Maskull

felt something snap inside his brain.  His limbs were free once more.

The two monsters in the rear staggered and darted head foremost

toward the earth, one after the other.  He watched them crash on the

ground, and then lie motionless.  The leader still came toward them,

but he fancied that its flight was altered in character; it was no

longer menacing, but tame and unwilling.

 

Oceaxe guided it with her will to the mainland shore opposite their

island rock.  Its vast bulk lay there extended, awaiting her

pleasure.  They immediately crossed the water.

 

Maskull viewed the shrowk at close quarters.  It was about thirty

feet long.  Its bright-coloured skin was shining, slippery, and

leathery; a mane of black hair covered its long neck. Its face was

awesome and unnatural, with its carnivorous eyes, frightful stiletto,

and blood - sucking cavity.  There were true fins on its back and

tail.

 

"Have you a good seat?" asked Oceaxe, patting the creature's flank.

"As I have to steer, let me jump on first."

 

She pulled up her gown, then climbed up and sat astride the animal's

back, just behind the mane, which she clutched.  Between her and the

fin there was just room for Maskull.  He grasped the two flanks with

his outer hands; his third, new arm pressed against Oceaxe's back,

and for additional security he was compelled to encircle her waist

with it.

 

Directly he did so, he realised that he had been tricked, and that

this ride had been planned for one purpose only - to inflame his

desires.

 

The third arm possessed a function of its own, of which hitherto he

had been ignorant.  It was a developed magn.  But the stream of love

which was communicated to it was no longer pure and noble - it was

boiling, passionate, and torturing.  He gritted his teeth, and kept

quiet, but Oceaxe had not plotted the adventure to remain unconscious

of his feelings.  She looked around, with a golden, triumphant smile.

"The ride will last some time, so hold on well!" Her voice was soft

like a flute, but rather malicious.

 

Maskull grinned, and said nothing.  He dared not remove his arm.

 

The shrowk straddled on to its legs.  It jerked itself forward, and

rose slowly and uncouthly in the air.  They began to paddle upward

toward the painted cliffs.  The motion was swaying, rocking, and

sickening; the contact of the brute's slimy skin was disgusting.  All

this, however, was merely, background to Maskull, as he sat there

with closed eyes, holding on to Oceaxe.  In the front and centre of

his consciousness was the knowledge that he was gripping a fair

woman, and that her flesh was responding to his touch like a lovely

harp.

 

They climbed up and up.  He opened his eyes, and ventured to look

around him.  By this time they were already level with the top of the

outer rampart of precipices.  There now came in sight a wild

archipelago of islands, with jagged outlines, emerging from a sea of

air.  The islands were mountain summits; or, more accurately

speaking, the country was a high tableland, fissured everywhere by

narrow and apparently bottomless cracks.  These cracks were in some

cases like canals, in others like lakes, in others merely holes in

the ground, closed in all round.  The perpendicular sides of the

islands - that is, the upper, visible parts of the innumerable cliff

faces - were of bare rock, gaudily coloured; but the level surfaces

were a tangle of wild plant life.  The taller trees alone were

distinguishable from the shrowk's back.  They were of different

shapes, and did not look ancient; they were slender and swaying but

did not appear very graceful; they looked tough, wiry, and savage.

 

As Maskull continued to explore the landscape, he forgot Oceaxe and

his passion. Other strange feelings came to the front.  The morning

was gay and bright. the sun scorched down, quickly changing clouds

sailed across the sky, the earth was vivid, wild, and lonely.  Yet he

experienced no aesthetic sensations - he felt nothing but an intense

longing for action and possession.  When he looked at anything, he

immediately wanted to deal with it.  The atmosphere of the land

seemed not free, but sticky; attraction and repulsion were its

constituents.  Apart from this wish to play a personal part in what

was going on around and beneath him, the scenery had no significance

for him.

 

So preoccupied was he, that his arm partly released its clasp. Oceaxe

turned around to gaze at him.  Whether or not she was satisfied with

what she saw, she uttered a low laugh, like a peculiar chord.

 

"Cold again so quickly, Maskull?"

 

"What do you want?" he asked absently, still looking over the side.

"it's extraordinary how drawn I feel to all this."

 

"You wish to take a hand?"

 

"I wish to get down."

 

"Oh, we have a good way to go yet.... So you really feel different?"

 

"Different from what?  What are you talking about?"' said Maskull,

still lost in abstraction.

 

Oceaxe laughed again.  "it would be strange if we couldn't make a man

of you, for the material is excellent."

 

After that, she turned her back once more.

 

The air islands differed from water islands in another way.  They

were not on a plane surface, but sloped upward, like a succession of

broken terraces, as the journey progressed.  The shrowk had hitherto

been flying well above the ground; but now, when a new line of

towering cliffs confronted them, Oceaxe did not urge the beast

upward, but caused it to enter a narrow canyon, which intersected the

mountains like a channel.  They were instantly plunged into deep

shade.  The canal was not above thirty feet wide; the walls stretched

upward on both sides for many hundred feet.  It was as cool as an ice

chamber.  When Maskull attempted to plumb the chasm with his eyes, he

saw nothing but black obscurity.

 

"What is at the bottom?" he asked.

 

"Death for you, if you go to look for it."

 

"We know that. I mean, is there any kind of life down there?"

 

"Not that I have ever heard of," said Oceaxe, "but of course all

things are possible."

 

"I think very likely there is life," he returned thoughtfully.

 

Her ironical laugh sounded out of the gloom.  "Shall we go down and

see?"

 

"You find that amusing?"

 

"No, not that.  What I do find amusing is the big stranger with the

beard, who is so keenly interested in everything except himself."

 

Maskull then laughed too.  "I happen to be the only thing in Tormance

which is not a novelty for me."

 

"Yes, but I am a novelty for you."

 

The channel went zigzagging its way through the belly of the

mountain, and all the time they were gradually rising.

 

"At least I have heard nothing like your voice before," said Maskull,

who, since he had no longer anything to look at, was at last ready

for conversation.

 

"What's the matter with my voice?"

 

"It's all that I can distinguish of you now; that's why I mentioned

it."

 

"Isn't it clear - don't I speak distinctly?"

 

"Oh, it's clear enough, but - it's inappropriate."

 

"Inappropriate?"

 

"I won't explain further," said Maskull, "but whether you are

speaking or laughing, your voice is by far the loveliest and

strangest instrument I have ever listened to.  And yet I repeat, it

is inappropriate."

 

"You mean that my nature doesn't correspond?"

 

He was just considering his reply, when their talk was abruptly

broken off by a huge and terrifying, but not very loud sound rising

up from the gulf directly underneath them.  It was a low, grinding,

roaring thunder.

 

"The ground is rising under us!" cried Oceaxe.

 

"Shall we escape?"

 

She made no answer, but urged the shrowk's flight upward, at such a

steep gradient that they retained their seats with difficulty.  The

floor of the canyon, upheaved by some mighty subterranean force,

could be heard, and almost felt, coming up after them, like a

gigantic landslip in the wrong direction.  The cliffs cracked, and

fragments began to fall.  A hundred awful noises filled the air,

growing louder and louder each second - splitting, hissing, cracking,

grinding, booming, exploding, roaring.  When they had still fifty

feet or so to go, to reach the top, a sort of dark, indefinite sea of

broken rocks and soil appeared under their feet, ascending rapidly,

with irresistible might, accompanied by the most horrible noises.

The canal was filled up for two hundred yards, before and behind

them.  Millions of tons of solid matter seemed to be raised.  The

shrowk in its ascent was caught by the uplifted debris.  Beast and

riders experienced in that moment all the horrors of an earthquake -

they were rolled violently over, and thrown among the rocks and dirt.

All was thunder, instability, motion, confusion.

 

Before they had time to realise their position, they were in the

sunlight.  The upheaval still continued.  In another minute or two

the valley floor had formed a new mountain, a hundred feet or more

higher than the old.  Then its movement ceased suddenly.  Every noise

stopped, as if by magic; not a rock moved.  Oceaxe and Maskull picked

themselves up and examined themselves for cuts and bruises.  The

shrowk lay on its side, panting violently, and sweating with fright.

 

"That was a nasty affair," said Maskull, flicking the dirt off his

person.

 

Oceaxe staunched a cut on her chin with a corner of her robe.

 

"It might have been far worse.... I mean, it's bad enough to come up,

but it's death to go down, and that happens just as often."

 

"Whatever induces you to live in such a country?"

 

"I don't know, Maskull.  Habit, I suppose. I have often thought of

moving out of it."

 

"A good deal must be forgiven you for having to spend your life in a

place like this, where one is obviously never safe from one minute to

another."

 

"You will learn by degrees," she answered, smiling.

 

She looked hard at the monster, and it got heavily to its feet.

 

"Get on again, Maskull!" she directed, climbing back to her perch.

"We haven't too much time to waste."

 

He obeyed.  They resumed their interrupted flight, this time over the

mountains, and in full sunlight.  Maskull settled down again to his

thoughts.  The peculiar atmosphere of the country continued to soak

into his brain.  His will became so restless and uneasy that merely

to sit there in inactivity was a torture.  He could scarcely endure

not to be doing something.

 

"How secretive you are, Maskull!" said Oceaxe quietly, without

turning her head.

 

"What secrets - what do you mean?"

 

"Oh, I know perfectly well what's passing inside you.  Now I think it

wouldn't be amiss to ask you - is friendship still enough?"

 

"Oh, don't ask me anything," growled Maskull. "I've far too many

problems in my head already. I only wish I could answer some of

them."

 

He stared stonily at the landscape.  The beast was winging its way

toward a distant mountain, of singular shape.  It was an enormous

natural quadrilateral pyramid, rising in great terraces and

terminating in a broad, flat top, on which what looked like green

snow still lingered.

 

"What mountain is that?" he asked.

 

"Disscourn.  The highest point in Ifdawn."

 

"Are we going there?"

 

"Why should we go there?  But if you were going on farther, it might

be worth your while to pay a visit to the top.  It commands the whole

land as far as the Sinking Sea and Swaylone's Island - and beyond.

You can also see Alppain from it."

 

"That's a sight I mean to see before I have finished."

 

"Do you, Maskull?" She turned around and put her hand on his wrist.

"Stay with me, and one day we'll go to Disscourn together."

 

He grunted unintelligibly.

 

There were no signs of human existence in the country under their

feet.  While Maskull was still grimly regarding it, a large tract of

forest not far ahead, bearing many trees and rocks, suddenly subsided

with an awful roar and crashed down into an invisible gulf.  What was

solid land one minute became a clean - cut chasm the next.  He jumped

violently up with the shock.  "This is frightful."

 

Oceaxe remained unmoved.

 

"Why, life here must be absolutely impossible," he went on, when he

had somewhat recovered himself.  "A man would need nerves of steel..

.. Is there no means at all of foreseeing a catastrophe like this?"

 

"Oh, I suppose we wouldn't be alive if there weren't," replied

Oceaxe, with composure.  "We are more or less clever at it - but that

doesn't prevent our often getting caught."

 

"You had better teach me the signs."

 

"We'll have many things to go over together.  And among them, I

expect, will be whether we are to stay in the land at all.... But

first let us get home."

 

"How far is it now?"

 

"It is right in front of you," said Oceaxe, pointing with her

forefinger.  "You can see it."

 

He followed the direction of the finger and, after a few questions,

made out the spot she was indicating.  It was a broad peninsula,

about two miles distant.  Three of its sides rose sheer out of a lake

of air, the bottom of which was invisible; its fourth was a

bottleneck, joining it to the mainland.  It was overgrown with bright

vegetation, distinct in the brilliant atmosphere.  A single tall

tree, shooting up in the middle of the peninsula, dwarfed everything

else; it was wide and shady with sea - green leaves.

 

"I won der if Crimtyphon is there," remarked Oceaxe.  "Can I see two

figures, or am I mistaken?"

 

"I also see something," said Maskull.

 

In twenty minutes they were directly above the peninsula, at a height

of about fifty feet.  The shrowk slackened speed, and came to earth

on the mainland, exactly at the gateway of the isthmus.  They both

descended - Maskull with aching thighs.

 

"What shall we do with the monster?" asked Oceaxe.  Without waiting

for a suggestion, she patted its hideous face with her hand.  "Fly

away home! I may want you some other time."

 

It gave a stupid grunt, elevated itself on its legs again, and, after

half running, half flying for a few yards, rose awkwardly into the

air, and paddled away in the same direction from which they had come.

They watched it out of sight, and then Oceaxe started to cross the

neck of land, followed by Maskull.

 

Branchspell's white rays beat down on them with pitiless force.  The

sky had by degrees become cloudless, and the wind had dropped

entirely.  The ground was a rich riot of vividly coloured ferns,

shrubs, and grasses.  Through these could be seen here and there the

golden chalky soil - and occasionally a glittering, white metallic

boulder.  Everything looked extraordinary and barbaric.  Maskull was

at last walking in the weird Ifdawn Marest which had created such

strange feelings in him when seen from a distance.... And now he felt

no wonder or curiosity at all, but only desired to meet human beings

- so intense had grown his will.  He longed to test his powers on his

fellow creatures, and nothing else seemed of the least importance to

him.

 

On the peninsula all was coolness and delicate shade.  It resembled a

large copse, about two acres in extent.  In the heart of the tangle

of small trees and undergrowth was a partially cleared space -

perhaps the roots of the giant tree growing in the centre had killed

off the smaller fry all around it.  By the side of the tree sparkled

a little, bubbling fountain, whose water was iron - red.  The

precipices on all sides, overhung with thorns, flowers, and creepers,

invested the enclosure with an air of wild and charming seclusion - a

mythological mountain god might have dwelt here.

 

Maskull's restless eye left everything, to fall on the two men who

formed the centre of the picture.

 

One was reclining, in the ancient Grecian fashion of banqueters on a

tall couch of mosses, sprinkled with flowers; he rested on one arm,

and was eating a kind of plum, with calm enjoyment.  A pile of these

plums lay on the couch beside him.  The over - spreading branches of

the tree completely sheltered him from the sun.  His small, boyish

form was clad in a rough skin, leaving his limbs naked.  Maskull

could not tell from his face whether he were a young boy or a grown

man.  The features were smooth, soft, and childish, their expression

was seraphically tranquil; but his violet upper eye was sinister and

adult.  His skin was of the colour of yellow ivory.  His long,

curling hair matched his sorb - it was violet.  The second man was

standing erect before the other, a few feet away from him.  He was

short and muscular, his face was broad, bearded, and rather

commonplace, but there was something terrible about his appearance.

The features were distorted by a deep - seated look of pain, despair,

and horror.

 

Oceaxe, without pausing, strolled lightly and lazily up to the

outermost shadows of the tree, some distance from the couch.

 

"We have met with an uplift," she remarked carelessly, looking toward

the youth.

 

He eyed her, but said nothing.

 

"How is your plant man getting on?" Her tone was artificial but

extremely beautiful.  While waiting for an answer, she sat down on

the ground, her legs gracefully thrust under her body, and pulled

down the skirt of her robe.  Maskull remained standing just behind

her, with crossed arms.

 

There was silence for a minute.

 

"Why don't you answer your mistress, Sature?" said the boy on the

couch, in a calm, treble voice.

 

The man addressed did not alter his expression, but replied in a

strangled tone, "I am getting on very well, Oceaxe.  There are

already buds on my feet.  Tomorrow I hope to take root."

 

Maskull felt a rising storm inside him.  He was perfectly aware that

although these words were uttered by Sature, they were being dictated

by the boy.

 

"What he says is quite true," remarked the latter.  "Tomorrow roots

will reach the ground, and in a few days they ought to be well

established.  Then I shall set to work to convert his arms into

branches, and his fingers into leaves.  It will take longer to

transform his head into a crown, but still I hope - in fact I can

almost promise that within a month you and I, Oceaxe, will be

plucking and enjoying fruit from this new and remarkable tree."

 

"I love these natural experiments," he concluded, putting out his

hand for another plum.  "They thrill me."

 

"This must be a joke," said Maskull, taking a step forward.

 

The youth looked at him serenely.  He made no reply, but Maskull felt

as if he were being thrust backward by an iron hand on his throat.

 

"The morning's work is now concluded, Sature.  Come here again after

Blodsombre.  After tonight you will remain here permanently, I

expect, so you had better set to work to clear a patch of ground for

your roots.  Never forget - however fresh and charming these plants

appear to you now, in the future they will be your deadliest rivals

and enemies.  Now you may go."

 

The man limped painfully away, across the isthmus, out of sight.

Oceaxe yawned.

 

Maskull pushed his way forward, as if against a wall.  "Are you

joking, or are you a devil?"

 

"I am Crimtyphon. I never joke.  For that epithet of yours, I will

devise a new punishment for you."

 

The duel of wills commenced without ceremony.  Oceaxe got up,

stretched her beautiful limbs, smiled, and prepared herself to

witness the struggle between her old lover and her new.  Crimtyphon

smiled too; he reached out his hand for more fruit, but did not eat

it.  Maskull's self - control broke down and he dashed at the boy,

choking with red fury - his beard wagged and his face was crimson.

When he realised with whom he had to deal, Crimtyphon left off

smiling, slipped off the couch, and threw a terrible and malignant

glare into his sorb.  Maskull

staggered.  He gathered together all the brute force of his will, and

by sheer weight continued his advance.  The boy shrieked and ran

behind the couch, trying to get away.... His opposition suddenly

collapsed.  Maskull stumbled forward, recovered himself, and then

vaulted clear over the high pile of mosses, to get at his antagonist.

He fell on top of him with all his bulk.  Grasping his throat, he

pulled his little head completely around, so that the neck was

broken.  Crimtyphon immediately died.

 

The corpse lay underneath the tree with its face upturned.  Maskull

viewed it attentively, and as he did so an expression of awe and

wonder came into his own countenance.  In the moment of death

Crimtyphon's face had undergone a startling and even shocking

alteration.  Its personal character had wholly vanished, giving place

to a vulgar, grinning mask which expressed nothing.

 

He did not have to search his mind long, to remember where he had

seen the brother of that expression.  It was identical with that on

the face of the apparition at the seance, after Krag had dealt with

it.

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

TYDOMIN

 

Oceaxe sat down carelessly on the couch of mosses , and began eating

the plums.

 

"You see, you had to kill him, Maskull," she said, in a rather

quizzical voice.

 

He came away from the corpse and regarded her - still red, and still

breathing hard.  "It's no joking matter.  You especially ought to

keep quiet."

 

"Why?"

 

"Because he was your husband."

 

"You think I ought to show grief - when I feel none?"

 

"Don't pretend, woman!"

 

Oceaxe smiled.  "From your manner one would think you were accusing

me of some crime."

 

Maskull literally snorted at her words.  "What, you live with filth -

you live in the arms of a morbid monstrosity and then - "

 

"Oh, now I grasp it," she said, in a tone of perfect detachment.

 

"I'm glad."

 

"Well, Maskull," she proceeded, after a pause, "and who gave you the

right to rule my conduct?  Am I not mistress of my own person?"

 

He looked at her with disgust, but said nothing.  There was another

long interval of silence.

 

"'I never loved him," said Oceaxe at last, looking at the ground.

 

"That makes it all the worse."

 

"What does all this mean - what do you want?"

 

"Nothing from you - absolutely nothing - thank heaven!"

 

She gave a hard laugh.  "You come here with your foreign

preconceptions and expect us all to bow down to them."

 

"What preconceptions?"

 

"Just because Crimtyphon's sports are strange to you, you murder him

- and you would like to murder me."

 

"Sports!  That diabolical cruelty."

 

"Oh, you're sentimental!" said Oceaxe contemptuously.  "Why do you

need to make such a fuss over that man?  Life is life, all the world

over, and one form is as good as another.  He was only to be made a

tree, like a million other trees.  If they can endure the life, why

can't he?

 

"And this is Ifdawn morality!"

 

Oceaxe began to grow angry.  "It's you who have peculiar ideas.  You

rave about the beauty of flowers and trees - you think them divine.

But when it's a question of taking on this divine, fresh, pure,

enchanting loveliness yourself, in your own person, it immediately

becomes a cruel and wicked degradation.  Here we have a strange

riddle, in my opinion."

 

"Oceaxe, you're a beautiful, heartless wild beast - nothing more.  If

you weren't a woman - "

 

"Well" - curling her lip  - "let us hear what would happen if I

weren't a woman?"

 

Maskull bit his nails.

 

"It doesn't matter.  I can't touch you - though there's certainly not

the difference of a hair between you and your boy - husband.  For

this you may thank my 'foreign preconceptions.' .. . Farewell!"

 

He turned to go.  Oceaxe's eyes slanted at him through their long

lashes.

 

"Where are you off to, Maskull?"

 

"That's a matter of no importance, for wherever I go it must be a

change for the better.  You walking whirlpools of crime!"

 

"Wait a minute. I only want to say this.  Blodsombre is just

starting, and you had better stay here till the afternoon.  We can

quickly put that body out of sight, and, as you seem to detest me so

much, the place is big enough - we needn't talk, or even see each

other."

 

"I don't wish to breathe the same air."

 

"Singular man!" She was sitting erect and motionless, like a

beautiful statue.  "And what of your wonderful interview with Surtur,

and all the undone things which you set out to do?"

 

"You aren't the one I shall speak to about that.  But" - he eyed her

meditatively - "while I'm still here you can tell me this.  What's

the meaning of the expression on that corpse's face?"

 

"Is that another crime, Maskull?  All dead people look like that.

Ought they not to?"

 

"I once heard it called 'Crystalman's face.'"

 

"Why not?  We are all daughters and sons of Crystalman.  It is

doubtless the family resemblance."

 

"It has also been told me that Surtur and Crystalman are one and the

same."

 

"You have wise and truthful acquaintances."

 

"Then how could it have been Surtur whom I saw?" said Maskull, more

to himself than to her.  "That apparition was something quite

different."

 

She dropped her mocking manner and, sliding imperceptibly toward him,

gently pulled his arm.

 

"You see - we have to talk.  Sit down beside me, and ask me your

questions.  I'm not excessively smart, but I'll

try to be of assistance."

 

Maskull permitted himself to be dragged down with soft violence.  She

bent toward him, as if confidentially, and contrived that her sweet,

cool, feminine breath should fan his cheek.

 

"Aren't you here to alter the evil to the good, Maskull?  Then what

does it matter who sent you?"

 

"What can you possibly know of good and evil?"

 

"Are you only instructing the initiated?"

 

"Who am I, to instruct anybody?  However, you're quite right. I wish

to do what I can  -  not because I am qualified, but because I am

here."

 

Oceaxe's voice dropped to a whisper.  "You're a giant, both in body

and soul.  What you want to do, you can do."

 

"Is that your honest opinion, or are you flattering me for your own

ends?"

 

She sighed.  "Don't you see how difficult you are making the

conversation?  Let's talk about your work, not about ourselves."

 

Maskull suddenly noticed a strange blue light glowing in the northern

sky.  It was from Alppain, but Alppain itself was behind the hills.

While he was observing it, a peculiar wave of self - denial, of a

disquieting nature, passed through him.  He looked at Oceaxe, and it

struck him for the first time that he was being unnecessarily brutal

to her.  He had forgotten that she was a woman, and defenceless.

 

"Won't you stay?" she asked all of a sudden, quite openly and

frankly.

 

"Yes, I think I'll stay," he replied slowly.  "And another thing,

Oceaxe - if I've misjudged your character, pray forgive me.  I'm a

hasty, passionate man."

 

"There are enough easygoing men.  Hard knocks are a good medicine for

vicious hearts.  And you didn't misjudge my character, as far as you

went - only, every woman has more than one character.  Don't you know

that?"

 

During the pause that followed, a snapping of twigs was heard, and

both looked around, startled.  They saw a woman stepping slowly

across the neck that separated them from the mainland.

 

"Tydomin," muttered Oceaxe, in a vexed, frightened voice.  She

immediately moved away from Maskull and stood up.

 

The newcomer was of middle height, very slight and graceful.  She was

no longer quite young.  Her face wore the composure of a woman who

knows her way about the world.  It was intensely pale, and under its

quiescence there just was a glimpse of something strange and

dangerous.  It was curiously alluring, though not exactly beautiful.

Her hair was clustering and boyish, reaching only to the neck.  It

was of a strange indigo colour.  She was quaintly attired in a tunic

and breeches, pieced together from the square, blue - green plates of

some reptile.  Her small, ivory-white breasts were exposed.  Her sorb

was black and sad - rather contemplative.

 

Without once glancing up at Oceaxe and Maskull, she quietly glided

straight toward Crimtyphon's corpse.  When she arrived within a few

feet of it, she stopped and looked down, with arms folded.

 

Oceaxe drew Maskull a little away, and whispered, "It's Crimtyphon's

other wife, who lives under Disscourn.  She's a most dangerous woman.

Be careful what you say.  If she asks you to do anything, refuse it

outright."

 

"The poor soul looks harmless enough."'

 

"Yes, she does - but the poor soul is quite capable of swallowing up

Krag himself.... Now, play the man."

 

The murmur of their voices seemed to attract Tydomin's notice, for

she now slowly turned her eyes toward them.

 

"Who killed him?" she demanded.

 

Her voice was so soft, low, and refined, that Maskull hardly was able

to catch the words.  The sounds, however, lingered in his ears, and

curiously enough seemed to grow stronger, instead of fainter.

 

Oceaxe whispered, "Don't say a word, leave it all to me." Then she

swung her body around to face Tydomin squarely, and said aloud, "I

killed him."

 

Tydomin's words by this time were ringing in Maskull's head like an

actual physical sound.  There was no question of being able to ignore

them; he had to make an open confession of his act, whatever the

consequences might be.  Quietly taking Oceaxe by the shoulder and

putting her behind him, he said in a low, but Perfectly distinct

voice, "It was I that killed Crimtyphon."

 

Oceaxe looked both haughty and frightened.  "Maskull says that so as

to shield me, as he thinks. I require no shield, Maskull. I killed

him, Tydomin."

 

"I believe you, Oceaxe.  You did murder him.  Not with your own

strength, for you brought this man along for the purpose."

 

Maskull took a couple of steps toward Tydomin.  "It's of little

consequence who killed him, for he's better dead than alive, in my

opinion.  Still, I did it.  Oceaxe had no hand in the affair."

 

Tydomin appeared not to hear him - she looked beyond him at Oceaxe

musingly.  "When you murdered him, didn't it occur to you that I

would come here, to find out?"

 

"I never once thought of you," replied Oceaxe, with an angry laugh.

"Do you really imagine that I carry your image with me wherever I

go?"

 

"If someone were to murder your lover here, what would you do?"

 

"Lying hypocrite!" Oceaxe spat out.  "You never were in love with

Crimtyphon.  You always hated me, and now you think it an excellent

opportunity to make it good .. . now that Crimtyphon's gone.... For

we both know he would have made a footstool of you, if I had asked

him.  He worshiped me, but he laughed at you.  He thought you ugly."

 

Tydomin flashed a quick, gentle smile at Maskull.  "Is it necessary

for you to listen to all this?"

 

Without question, and feeling it the right thing to do, he walked

away out of earshot.

 

Tydomin approached Oceaxe.  "Perhaps because my beauty fades and I'm

no longer young, I needed him all the more."

 

Oceaxe gave a kind of snarl.  "Well, he's dead, and that's the. end

of it.    What are you going to do now,

Tydomin?"

 

The other woman smiled faintly and rather pathetically.  "There's

nothing left to do, except mourn the dead.  You won't grudge me that

last office?"

 

"Do you want to stay here?" demanded Oceaxe suspiciously.

 

"Yes, Oceaxe dear, I wish to be alone."

 

"Then what is to become of us?"

 

"I thought that you and your lover - what is his name?"

 

"Maskull."

 

"I thought that perhaps you two would go to Disscourn, and spend

Blodsombre at my home."

 

Oceaxe called out aloud to Maskull, "Will you come with me now to

Disscourn?"

 

"If you wish," returned Maskull.

 

"Go first, Oceaxe. I must question your friend about Crimtyphon's

death.  I won't keep him."

 

"Why don't you question me, rather?" demanded Oceaxe, looking up

sharply.

 

Tydomin gave the shadow of a smile.  "We know each other too well."

 

"Play no tricks!" said Oceaxe, and she turned to go.

 

"Surely you must be dreaming," said Tydomin.  "That's the way -

unless you want to walk over the cliffside."

 

The path Oceaxe had chosen led across the isthmus.  The direction

which Tydomin proposed for her was over the edge of the precipice,

into empty space.

 

"Shaping! I must be mad," cried Oceaxe, with a laugh.  And she

obediently followed the other's finger.

 

She walked straight on toward the edge of the abyss, twenty paces

away.  Maskull pulled his beard around, and wondered what she was

doing.  Tydomin remained standing with outstretched finger, watching

her.  Without hesitation, without slackening her step once, Oceaxe

strolled on - and when she had reached the extreme end of the land

she still took one more step.

 

Maskull saw her limbs wrench as she stumbled over the edge.  Her body

disappeared, and as it did so an awful shriek sounded.

Disillusionment had come to her an instant too late.  He tore himself

out of his stupor, rushed to the edge of the cliff, threw himself on

the ground recklessly, and looked over.... Oceaxe had vanished.

 

He continued staring wildly down for several minutes, and then began

to sob.  Tydomin came up to him, and he got to his feet.

 

The blood kept rushing to his face and leaving it again.  It was some

time before he could speak at all.  Then he brought out the words

with difficulty.  "You shall pay for this, Tydomin.  But first I want

to hear why you did it."

 

"Hadn't I cause?" she asked, standing with downcast eyes.

 

"Was it pure fiendishness?"

 

"It was for Crimtyphon's sake."

 

"She had nothing to do with that death. I told you so."

 

"You are loyal to her, and I'm loyal to him."

 

"Loyal?  You've made a terrible blunder.  She wasn't my mistress.  I

killed Crimtyphon for quite another reason.  She had absolutely no

part in it."

 

"Wasn't she your lover?" asked Tydomin slowly.

 

"You've made a terrible mistake," repeated Maskull.  "I killed him

because he was a wild beast.  She was as innocent of his death as you

are."

 

Tydomin's face took on a hard look.  "So you are guilty of two

deaths."

 

There was a dreadful silence.

 

"Why couldn't you believe me?" asked Maskull, who was pale and

sweating painfully.

 

"Who gave you the right to kill him?" demanded Tydomin sternly.

 

He said nothing, and perhaps did not hear her question.

 

She sighed two or three times and began to stir restlessly. "Since

you murdered him, you must help me bury him."

 

"What's to be done?  This is a most fearful crime."

 

"You art a most fearful man.  Why did you come here, to do all this?

What are we to you?"

 

"Unfortunately you are right."

 

Another pause ensued.

 

"It's no use standing here," said Tydomin.  "Nothing can be done. you

must come with me."

 

"Come with you?  Where to?"

 

"To Disscourn.  There's a burning lake on the far side of it.  He

always wished to be cast there after death.  We can do that after

Blodsombre - in the meantime we must take him home."

 

"You're a callous, heartless woman.  Why should he be buried when

that poor girl must remain unburied?"

 

"You know that's out of the question," replied Tydomin quietly.

 

Maskull's eyes roamed about agitatedly, apparently seeing nothing.

 

"We must do something," she continued.  "I shall go. you can't wish

to stay here alone?"

 

"No, I couldn't stay here - and why should I want to? You want me to

carry the corpse?"

 

"He can't carry himself, and you murdered him.  Perhaps it will ease

your mind to carry it."

 

"Ease my mind?" said Maskull, rather stupidly.

 

"There's only one relief for remorse, and that's voluntary pain."

 

"And have you no remorse?" he asked, fixing her with a heavy eye.

 

"These crimes are yours, Maskull," she said in a low but incisive

voice.

 

They walked over to Crimtyphon's body, and Maskull hoisted it on to

his shoulders.  It weighed heavier than he had thought.  Tydomin did

not offer to assist him to adjust the ghastly burden.

 

She crossed the isthmus, followed by Maskull.  Their path lay through

sunshine and shadow.  Branchspell was blazing in a cloudless sky, the

heat was insufferable - streams of sweat coursed down his face, and

the corpse seemed to grow heavier and heavier.  Tydomin always walked

in front of him.  His eyes were fastened in an unseeing stare on her

white, womanish calves; he looked neither to right nor left.  His

features grew sullen.  At the end of ten minutes he suddenly allowed

his burden to slip off his shoulders on to the ground, where it lay

sprawled every which way.  He called out to Tydomin.

 

She quickly looked around.

 

"Come here.  It has just occurred to me" - he laughed - "why should I

be carrying this corpse - and why should I be following you at all?

What surprises me is, why this has never struck me before."

 

She at once came back to him.  "I suppose you're tried, Maskull.  Let

us sit down.  Perhaps you have come a long way this morning?"

 

"Oh, it's not tiredness, but a sudden gleam of sense.  Do you know of

any reason why I should be acting as your porter?" He laughed again,

but nevertheless sat down on the ground beside her.

 

Tydomin neither looked at him nor answered.  Her head was half bent,

so as to face the northern sky, where the Alppain light was still

glowing.  Maskull followed her gaze, and also watched the glow for a

moment or two in silence.

 

"Why don't you speak?" he asked at last.