Chapter 16 [Out of the Silence, by Erle Cox]

[Editor: This is a chapter from Out of the Silence (1947 edition) by Erle Cox (1873-1950).]

Chapter XVI

Dundas woke next morning with a clear consciousness of the weighty matter he was called on to deal with, and as a preliminary he emptied his head of his difficulty until the time came for him to grapple with it in earnest. But though he could put problems from his mind for the time being, he made no attempt to turn his thoughts from the central figure in the case, nor could he have done so even if he wished. He set about his house work with a light heart, and for the first time in many days gave it more than perfunctory attention. He cooked for himself and enjoyed a good breakfast. Then having cleaned up his kitchen, he filled his pipe, and, pacing the verandah with his hands deep in his pockets, took counsel with himself.

He knew he had reached a point when he must obtain assistance from outside. Not for an instant did he question the certainty that the now inanimate figure beneath the crystal dome could be called to life by following the directions in the volume in the casket. The trouble was that he knew himself to be incompetent to carry out the necessary operation. Obviously that was a task for a surgeon. He felt a deep satisfaction in the thought that the surgeon he wanted was at his call and was, moreover, a lifelong chum whose fidelity was beyond question. This was, however, the least of his troubles. The real question revolved round the point of what was to be done with the lady of his dreams when she had been recalled to life. He could trust Dick Barry absolutely with his secret, but it was another matter to have to disclose it to some woman or other. He feared now, and not without reason, that once the knowledge of the existence of his discovery became public property constituted authority would step in and assume control of the situation. That he might be deprived of any right to control the contents of the galleries was of small moment compared with the fear that he might be separated from the woman whom he looked upon as his by divine right. He might, of course, get assistance from Doris Bryce or Kitty Barry, but deeply as he admired those two virtuous wives of his friends, he doubted their ability to control events sufficiently to keep their counsel until he was ready to proclaim his discovery to the world. Moreover, there came to add to his difficulties the fact that his bachelor establishment was an impossible hiding-place for his secret. Every way he turned, the position bristled with notes of interrogation without one single feasible answer.

In the end he cut the knot of all his problems by deciding to lay the case before Barry, and induce that aspiring physician to perform the operation, and thereafter let events shape themselves. He had an idea that the central figure in the question would probably take the final decision out of his hands. “Anyhow,” he said aloud to himself, as he tapped the ashes from his pipe. “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. I guess I’ll give Dick Barry something to think over before the day is out.”

It was characteristic of Dundas that, in spite of his absorbed interest in his own affairs, he did not forget to pull up at the only confectioner’s shop in Glen Cairn. Then he handed over Billy to the groom at the club, and made his way to the residence of his friend. A brass plate of dazzling brilliance announced that Richard Barry, B.Sc., M.D., might be consulted there between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m., and 8 and 9 p.m. As it was just after 11, Alan knew that he would catch Barry before he left home on his rounds. The moment he entered the gate a joyous infantile squeal announced his presence to the mother on the verandah, who was unevenly dividing her time between sewing and entertaining her exuberant offspring. Alan heaved Barry, junior, to his shoulder, and joined Kitty, who had called out, on seeing who her visitor was, that she was not at home to strangers. Dundas deposited the wriggling infant at his mother’s feet, and protested that his call was purely in honour of her son, who did not harbour horrid conventional criticism.

“Honest Injun, Madam Kitty, I’ve been working myself to death, and instead of sympathy you give me nothing but abuse. Too bad! Other pocket, you rascal; you’ll only find gloves in that one.” This to the infant image of his hostess, who was foraging for the result of his visit to the confectioner.

“Not only do you shamefully neglect us, Alan, but you add to your misdeeds by spoiling my baby. Give them to mother, Dickie,” said Kitty, looking accusingly at Dundas, and then coaxingly at the infant, who was cuddling a big bag of chocolates. “You stick to them, Coeur-de-Lion,” advised Alan cheerfully. “Mummy will gobble up the lot if you don’t.” Kitty glanced scornfully at her visitor, while she arranged a diplomatic compromise with the babe, Alan looking on the while in amused silence. When the child waddled off appeased, along the verandah, she turned to Dundas seriously. “You know I sometimes think that Dick does not know as much about babies as I do. He says to let the little demon (demon, indeed! a nice sort of father!) eat anything he wants. What do you think?”

Alan chuckled. “Can’t say that I’m up in the subject myself. Anyhow between the two of you the ‘demon’ looks in rattling condition, but I’ll say this, if ever I want medical advice I won’t come to your man for it.”

“Alan!” in pained surprise from Kitty.

“You see, Madam Kitty,” he went on unmoved by her protest. “Dick’s been itching to get to work on me for many a day. I’ve pulled his limb so often in various ways that he says he is just waiting for a minor operation on me without anaesthetics. The bloodthirsty villain is looking forward to getting a bit of his own back that way.”

Kitty smiled at the explanation. “I don’t wonder at it, you scamp. I’ll ask him to give you an extra prod for me when he gets the chance. What’s this story about your working for an examination? Mr. Bryce said that was the reason why you had not been in to the town for nearly two months, and I might tell you that George MacArthur has elaborated the statement by saying you are going in for holy orders.”

Alan blessed Bryce inwardly, but regretted that he had not arranged with his friend as to the exact course of study he was supposed to pursue. “I should imagine that Mac had made that statement for the edification of John Harvey Pook. Well, I’m not going to tilt the reverend gentleman out of his pulpit just yet. It’s only that I wanted to finish some work that I had taken in hand that caused me to lie low. I’m pretty nearly finished now. Where is Dick? I hope he isn’t out. I’ve come to consult him.”

Kitty looked at him anxiously. “Oh, Alan, I hope ———”

Dundas stopped her with a laugh. “Do I look like an invalid? No, it’s a professional matter, but it is not for myself.”

A smart motor swung round the drive and came to a standstill before the front door. “That looks as though he were ready to take wing. I hope he will have time to see me.”

Kitty reassured him on that point. “I know that at present Dick has nothing pressing to attend to. He was saying only his morning that his round would be a light one for a while. Here he is.” As she spoke her husband appeared. Barry’s face lit up with pleasure at the sight of Dundas. He was a big, wholesome man, red haired and blue eyed. He was by no means handsome, but his face was one that won the way of the man straight to the hearts of every one with whom he came into contact. Women trusted him implicitly, and children and dogs took possession of him on sight, while men voted the “Doc” a rattling good sort. Therefore his paths were pleasant in the land.

“Dun, old man, I thought you had entered a monastery or something of the sort. The committee of the club is going to inquire into your conduct. What’s the very latest?”

“The very latest is,” put in Kitty, “that he has not been here ten minutes, and he has tried to make your son sick with sweets, and disobey his mother, and further he has been casting reflections on your professional ability.”

The two men laughed at the indictment. “It’s a distorted version of my proceedings, Dick, with a vapoury substratum of truth. I really came to have a professional yabber with you, if you can give me the time; but it will take an hour at least.” Barry sent a swift glance over his friend; then, turning quickly, he called to his man to take the car back to the garage. “I’ve time and to spare, Dun. Come along to the surgery.” Alan looked at Kitty. “You’ll excuse me, Madam Kitty.”

“Of course, provided you’ll stay to lunch.”

“I rather surmise that Richard Barry, M.D., etc., will have other views, so I can only give a provisional promise,” was the answer, as the two men turned into the house.

In the surgery Barry pulled up a chair for Alan, and seated himself at his desk. “What’s the trouble, Alan?” he asked seriously. “Not yourself, I hope. Though you are looking a bit tucked up.” Dundas shook his head. “I’m as sound as a bell, Dicky, but — the fact of the matter is I hardly know where to start.” He rose and commenced to pace the room slowly. Barry, versed in human nature, forbore to question. “Take your time, Dun.”

Alan came to a standstill before the desk. “Look, Dick! If I hadn’t known you since we were shavers together, I wouldn’t tell you what I’m going to tell you now. It is not only a professional matter, but God only knows what else depends on it. Under ordinary circumstances I would not insult you by asking you to give your solemn promise that under no circumstances shall you divulge what passes between us without my express permission.”

Barry looked at his friend closely. “Alan, my boy, if anyone else but you asked me for such a promise, I’d feel it incumbent on me to boot him off the premises. However, in your case, I’ll say that I’ll give the promise, though it isn’t altogether necessary.”

“Don’t get shirty, Dick; you’ll understand presently. Now what I want you to do is to come out to ‘Cootamundra,’ and perform a delicate operation on a young woman.”

Barry rose slowly, and with his hands on the table leaned towards Alan. There was a glint in his eyes as he spoke. “You ask me to come out to ‘Cootamundra’ to perform a delicate operation on a young woman. Well, Dundas, here’s my answer. I’ll see you damned first.” He spoke in a low, even tone, but he emphasised his answer by bringing his clenched hand down on the table with a thump that made it rattle.

Alan looked at his friend open-mouthed at the outburst. Then sudden comprehension came to him, and he rocked with derisive laughter at Dick’s grim set face. “Oh, Dicky! You evil-minded old bird. It’s my turn to get snake-headed now. So you thought that I — Richard, I blush for you and your estimate of human nature.”

“Human nature be hanged!” growled Barry, sinking back into his chair mollified. “An intelligent fly on the wall of this room for a month would learn more about it than you would in a lifetime. Crank up again.”

“My fault for beginning at the wrong end,” said Dundas, still smiling reminiscently. Then he dropped into a chair, and leaning forward on the table commenced his story. For a while Barry listened in silence, but at last unable to control himself, broke in.

“Great Scott, Alan, is this another leg-pulling expedition, or have the bats got into your belfry? Do you mean to tell me that when you got to the bottom of the stairs of this place there were lights burning?”

There was a choleric gleam in his blue eyes. Alan looked at him thoughtfully for a while. He remembered that what had come to himself gradually and in very fact, was coming to Barry all at once and verbally, and he felt that allowances must be made. “Dick, old man, I don’t know how to put it to you,” he said seriously, “but I want you to believe that I was never more in earnest in my life than I am now. I want you to listen and hear me out. Then I will answer every question you like to put up to me. Only this, mad as it may seem, every word I am speaking is true, and of that I will convince you sooner or later — sooner if possible.”

Dick settled himself back in his chair. “Sorry, old man. My imagination isn’t exactly cast iron, but then again it hasn’t altogether gaseous elasticity. I won’t interrupt again.”

Nevertheless, as Alan went on with his story, Barry’s mind alternated between fits of excitement and cautious estimates of Alan’s mental state, until in spite of himself his chum’s sincerity and elaboration of detail carried conviction. The relation of the discovery of the Biological Gallery brought him to his feet. “Dun, if that’s not absolute fact, I’ll murder you for opening out a fictitious vista of paradise. Glory! What a place to get loose in!”

“Dicky, I’ll promise you a free run of it, but I doubt if you’ll ever want to look at it at present when you hear the end,” said Alan, smiling at the fire he had kindled in his friend. Then he picked up the thread of his story. There was no fear of disbelief now, a few of the details he had given convinced Dick that no layman could have concocted the story. From that out he followed the story with breathless interest, until Alan, now warmed up, came to the story of the opening of the temple and the figure on the couch. Then he could contain himself no longer. “Good God! Alan,” he whispered, with his voice trembling, “is she — is she” — he could not frame the word.

“Dick, old man,” said Dundas solemnly, “I know as certainly as we are both living that she is living. It’s no guess. All these ages, God alone knows how long, she has been lying there waiting for the hand that will call her back to life. Lying there in state, in all her wonderful, glorious beauty. Dick, when you see her you will understand my raving about her. Old fellow, if I could have done what is necessary myself, I could find it in my heart never to allow another man to set eyes upon her, But you will help, Dick. You must. I can trust no one else.”

Barry had risen to his feet, and started pacing the room with quick, nervous steps. “Man! Are we both mad? It’s incredible — monstrous. Alan, I don’t doubt the rest, but in this you must be mistaken. If she be human there can be no life. She may be a masterpiece of consummate art, but human, never!”

Dundas followed the restless movements of his friend with his eyes without moving from his seat. “Dick,” he said quietly, “if she be what you think, then, I have lost my heart and soul to an effigy. No, old man. Wonderful as they were, these old builders of wonders, they could not have built such a wonder as she is. Think of the infinite craft and skill with which she was guarded. The whole plan of the place was arranged for her protection. Dick, will you do it?”

Barry came to a standstill in quivering excitement. “Will I do it? Good heaven, man! I’d sell my immortal soul just to look on. Man, it will be the biggest thing — it’s gigantic. Think of a paper to the ‘Lancet’ or the ‘B.M.J.’ Think of reading it at the next medical conference ——”

“Think of the promise you made me,” put in Alan coolly. “Dick, I don’t want to deprive you of the honour and glory, but you must wait my time. For the present, Dicky, this is a strictly professional engagement. We’ll work it on your own terms, but you come out to ‘Cootamundra’ as my medical adviser until such time as I am ready to disclose everything. After that you can write papers and read papers till the cows come home.”

The reminder brought Barry down from the clouds. “You are right, Alan. I was so excited that I forget. You say I may name my own terms. All right. My terms are the free run of the Biological Gallery. In return I’ll operate, and take charge of her professionally, so long as she requires my help.”

“Done, Dicky. When will you do it?” asked Alan excitedly.

Barry glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. “Twelve-fifteen. I can finish my work, and be out at ‘Cootamundra’ by two-thirty. I’ll give Walton a ring, and ask him to look after anything urgent that may turn up. That’s the best of being on good terms with a hated rival. But, by thunder, Dun, he’ll shoot me on sight, and I’ll deserve it, for not calling him in as consultant. Rotten treatment for a brother brush, but it can’t be helped.” He turned, and busied himself at an instrument cabinet. “You won’t want any tools, Dick,” said Dundas, looking over his shoulder. “I’ll bet that there’s a better collection of hardware out there than you ever laid your eyes on.”

“Oh, well,” answered Barry, slipping a couple of cases into his bag, “I’ll take them on the off-chance. You’d better come with me in the car.”

“I think not,” said Alan. “I’ll get out ahead of you and get things ready. Tell Madam Kitty I’ll give you a feed out there. Goodness only knows how long you’ll be. Hold on, Dick, what about food for her? She’ll want something of the kind.”

Barry knitted his brows thoughtfully, and then went to his desk. “The deuce of it is there’s no precedent for such a case. Got any milk out there?” he said, taking up his pen.

“I can get some; I don’t use it myself.”

“Good! Get a quart or two, and take this down to the chemist,” said Dick, scrawling over a sheet of prescription paper. “It’s a list of a few things that may come in handy.” He paused thoughtfully. “Do you know, Dun, I shouldn’t be surprised if they have made all arrangements for the correct nourishment. Some of those locked cabinets you were talking about.”

Dundas took the list, and Barry caught up his bag. “While you are waiting for me, time that hour-glass with your watch. It will be better to know the time we will have to wait between the two injections. Ready? Come on, then,” said Dick over his shoulder.

Madam Kitty, used as a doctor’s wife to the domestic disruptions of her husband’s profession, received the news of the immediate flight of both guest and husband with resigned philosophy. Stipulating that Dick would really have something to eat with Alan at ‘Cootamundra,’ she waved the two on their various ways, wondering a little at Dick’s undoubted excitement, though he tried hard to suppress it, and at what urgent call Alan could be mixed up with. For, dutifully, she never even hinted at a question that impinged ever so slightly on her man’s work.

pages 157-168

[Editor: Changed: “to add his difficulties” to “to add to his difficulties”; “Everyway he turned” to “Every way he turned”; “to and effigy” to “to an effigy”. Removed the quotation mark from before “What’s the very”.]

Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 157-168

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