Chapter 17 [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 XVII

Dundas made his purchases from the chemist, and then, without further delay, had Billy harnessed, and turned homeward, covering the twelve miles in an hour. His first care was to prepare a meal for Barry, and having accomplished this, he made his way to the shed. Since his first discovery he had, for his own convenience, placed steps in the outer shaft, so that his visits were carried out without the exertion of scrambling in and out. Eagerly he descended the winding stairway to the vestibule, and hurried to the sixth gallery. Everything was as he had left it. Even now he could not cross the threshold of the “temple” without a feeling of awe for what it contained.

In accordance with Barry’s instructions, he proceeded to time the hour-glass. After starting it, and carefully noting the time, he turned to the crystal dome, and stood gazing enwrapped before the figure beneath. The wonderful alluring beauty of the woman seemed to appeal to all his senses with renewed force. There was something pathetic in her very helplessness that drew from his manhood a feeling of reverence. She could have not been very old, he thought, as he stood watching; not more than twenty-four or five when the life had been stilled. His mind almost reeled when he tried to realise how long she had lain there awaiting his coming. The world had been born again, and the history of humanity had been rewritten since those white lids had closed upon her eyes. Through all our known time she had waited there in the silence and solitude. No detail of the picture escaped his searching eyes. He found himself wondering whether the radiant masses of her hair had increased while she was lying there. He wondered, too, whether there was a reason that one white delicate hand lay open, palm down, beside her, while the other was closed. Whose hand was it that had drawn that shimmering sapphire covering over her, and composed her limbs for the long sleep?

Then an unconquerable restlessness seized him, and an anxiety he could not repress took possession of him. With nervous steps he paced the chamber from end to end, pausing now to glance at the receding sand in the glass, and again to rest his eyes on the still figure. At last it was finished, and when Alan snapped the case of his watch he knew that the interval between the two injections would be one hour and fifteen minutes.

By now Barry would be due, so Dundas made his way to the homestead, in order that he would be there in time to receive his friend. However, there was no sign of the doctor’s car on the distant road, and, with growing impatience, he roamed in and out of the house. Then a thought flashed across his mind. He went into his bedroom, and looked himself over critically in the glass on his dressing table. Beyond the care of the average neatly-dressed man, as a rule he took little heed of his personal appearance. Now, however, his scrutiny of his reflection seemed to give him little cause for satisfaction. He frowned discontently at the blue serge clad figure, and then looked about the room for inspiration. Presently his face lit up. He remembered that he had a brand new suit of tennis flannels, and, hastily discarding the despised serge, he proceeded to array himself in white. He was deeply immersed in the problem of whether a dark blue or dark red tie would look the better, when the toot of a motor-horn outside announced the arrival of Barry. Hastily deciding for blue, he called out to Dick to make himself at home, and finished his toilet. He appeared before his guest looking not a little self-conscious for his change of raiment, a fact that was by no means lost on that graceless friend of his youth, who proceeded to roast him without mercy, and, for a wonder, Dundas was dumb before the attack. At last he blurted out: “Oh, stop rotting me, Dick! I’m all nerves and jumps. I’ll own up that I got into these togs with the hope of improving my appearance. I don’t want her to think that all the men in the world are like you. Don’t you ever realise that our modern, every-day clothing is the most damnably ugly and inartistic that mankind ever wore?”

Barry went off into shouts of laughter. “When did you find that out, Dun? I’ve heard you say that blue dungaree was good enough for anyone.”

Shameless now in his fall, Alan faced him without flinching. “I found it out about half an hour ago. Tell you what, Dick. If I had an eighteenth century rig-out of blue satin and gold lace, I’d wear it now. Hanged if I wouldn’t. Now you had better have something to eat, for Providence only knows when we will be finished.”

In spite of Barry’s remonstrance, Alan declined to join him, protesting that he could not swallow a mouthful if he tried. When the doctor had satisfied his hunger the two set out for the shed, carrying with them bottles of milk and other concentrated and nourishing preparations that Barry had suggested, and also the bag containing the instruments.

Both men were now in a state of suppressed excitement. Alan because he stood on the verge of realising his wildest hopes, and Dick at the thought of penetrating to the mysterious discovery so vividly described by his friend. When they entered the shed Alan carefully locked the door, and lit an acetylene lamp. Then he handed the basket to Barry, and the two descended into the shaft. As they entered the doorway to the landing, Dundas cautioned his companion to follow him carefully, and led the way downward. For a while they descended without speaking, the only sound being caused by the tread of Barry’s boots, multiplied weirdly by the echoes of the shaft, until at last the impression of the ghostly crowd of followers became too strong for his nerves, and he paused irresolutely.

“Dash it all, Alan,” he said, speaking almost in a whisper, “is there much more of this? It’s enough to give anyone the jumps.”

Dundas looked up at him. “We’re not half-way down yet, Dickie. If it’s any satisfaction to you, it gave me the jumps to some tune the first time I came down. I’ll tell you about it later. You might notice I’m wearing tennis shoes.” His voice reverberated in uncanny echoes. Then Barry broke in. “Great Scott, man! Don’t let us stand here talking, the place seems full of beastly spooks. I wonder you didn’t funk it.”

“I did,” replied Alan shortly, “but I went through worse, and so will you, my boy.” He turned, and they resumed their noisy progress. At last they came to the lower landing, and, in spite of the warning Alan gave, Barry almost dropped the basket he was carrying when his eyes fell on the shadow on the opposite wall. Alan paused and gave Dick a brief but lurid account of his flight for the upper air at his first encounter, and, in spite of the shock he had just undergone, his friend could not forbear to laugh, though he admitted he would have done the same thing.

As the two came to a halt at the head of the stairway to the vestibule; Dundas turned to his chum. “Now, listen, Dick,” he said seriously, “before we go any further, you have to understand that when we get to the end of the next steps there are more kinds of sudden death about than you have the faintest idea of. There is only one thing for you to do, and that is to follow my footsteps exactly. If you try to find a track for yourself you will in all probability die very suddenly and very unpleasantly.”

“Cheerful sort of place you seem to have strayed into, Dun. Anyhow, you don’t need a promise from me to stick to you like a leech. I hope you know your landmarks!’

“Pretty well by now, but there may be a few surprises left that I haven’t come on, so keep close behind me, and let nothing tempt you to break away. I’ll bring the lamp with me; we may want it later. Come on now, but remember.”

With Barry at his heels, Dundas descended the last stairway to the vestibule, pausing on the way to show his friend the place where the blade had blocked his path, and how he had overcome it.

From there onward their progress was punctuated by wrangles. Barry, awe-stricken and enthralled by his surroundings, desired only to linger and satisfy his curiosity, while Alan, impatient at every moment’s delay, attempted to hurry him forward. Familiarity with its wonders had to some extent blunted Alan’s interest in the Art Gallery, and it had been completely overshadowed by his latest discovery in the “temple,” so that it was with a feeling approaching irritation that he urged Barry forward. In spite of bullying and badgering, the journey through the first gallery occupied a quarter of an hour, and finally Dundas swore by all the gods that if Dick would not consent to go direct to the sixth gallery he would call off the agreement and engage Walton for the work. The threat had its intended effect, though as they passed the door of the Biological Gallery, Alan had to move behind him, and was only able to get him past the zone of attraction by resorting to violence.

At length they arrived at the entrance to the ante-chamber. In his narrative Alan had made no allusion to this feature of the journey. Pausing at the doorway, while Barry stood lost in amazement at its magnificence, Alan briefly outlined the peculiarities of its construction, so as to prepare his chum for the shock. In spite of this, however, and even with the assistance of the friendly rays of the acetylene lamp, it was a white and sober man who stood beside Dundas when he had reached the last gallery. Even in his excitement Alan could not hide his amusement at his friend’s discomfiture. “Dicky, old man, if you ever say another word to me about my attempts at sartorial improvement today, I’ll write an article describing how you shied when the howling started.”

Barry wiped his damp forehead, and heaved a mighty breath. “By thunder! Dun, if I had known what kind of a place you were bringing me to, I think I would have let you get other medical advice.” He had been so much upset for one moment that he had taken no notice of his new surroundings. Then his eyes, following those of Dundas, fell upon the “temple,” and on the realistic group of figures under the portico. From where they were standing it was almost impossible to decide whether Art or Nature was responsible for that unconventional trio. Obeying all his instincts, Barry turned swiftly away, and drew Alan with him. “Good heavens, man!” he gasped. “I thought you said there was only one.”

Alan chuckled at his friend’s blushing countenance. “Sorry if your modesty is damaged, Dicky, but your patient is inside. The girls on the portico are merely her guardian angels. I’ll admit they are not the stereotyped kind.” Turning with his hand on Barry’s shoulder, the two walked towards the steps. “Those three hussies are a sample of the art of another period of the world’s existence, and if they are true to nature, it merely goes to show that Nature has never been able to improve on the female of the species.”

“Upon my word, Dun,” said Barry, eyeing the figures askance. “I don’t mind a fair thing, but these are rather overproof. I’m sure Kitty would hardly approve of my making their acquaintance. They are too blushfully realistic even as ornaments.”

“They are something more than ornaments, Dick. Like everything else about the place, they were put there for a purpose. I’ll show you why later. Don’t let us waste any more time now. Come on.” He stepped to the curtain and drew it aside, at the same time motioning Barry to enter. As the curtain fell behind them the atmosphere of mystery that prevailed in the “temple” gripped them both in its thrall. They bared their heads mechanically and as Dundas led the way to the crystal dome their voices fell to a whisper. Standing beside the glittering canopy, Alan looked from the face of the glorious figure beneath to that of his friend. He knew that Barry’s calmer and trained judgment would prove or dispel his hopes at the first glance. It was with a wild thrill of happiness, then, that he saw the blank look on Dick’s face give way to amazement. Like a man in a dream, he sank to his knees, pressing his face closer to the transparent cover in an attempt to peer more closely at the still form on the couch. For a few minutes he remained motionless. Then, without turning his head, he spoke in an awed whisper. “It’s true. My God! It’s true.” A moment later he rose suddenly and caught Alan’s arm. “Dun, you were right.” His voice trembled with excitement. “Even to the last I thought you were bringing me to a tomb. Dun, do you understand what it means? She’s alive. She’s alive!”

“I was sure of it, Dick,” said Dundas quietly, looking from his friend’s face back to the couch. “I don’t understand anything except that. Dick, do you think that we can ——” His voice failed from anxiety, but the mute question in his eyes said more than words.

“God only knows what’s behind it all, Alan,” answered Barry soberly. “If the life has been kept in the body so long by some wonderful means, then perhaps by means as wonderful it may be renewed.” He broke off and turned again to the canopy, and studied the figure there with searching eyes. Then he looked up again. “Old man, I can well understand why you are so anxious, but, for God’s sake, don’t hope for too much. Alan, there are so many things that may have gone wrong since she was laid there. The drugs may have deteriorated. They may have been a time limit. We are working absolutely in the dark.”

Dundas shook his head. “Somehow, Dick, I think they have left no chance for an error. The whole thing rests with us, or rather with you.”

Barry stood for a while without speaking, then he braced himself together. “Show me that book, Dun. After all it all rests on that.” Without a word, Alan led the way to the casket, and, drawing the book from its case, he placed it on the table before Barry. Then he drew up two seats. For half an hour they sat in absorbed silence, Barry intent on the pages before him, and Alan watching without comment as the other turned from the book to the casket. He compared each article in turn with the diagrams, and handled them deftly and precisely. Dick was first to break the silence. “Did you time that glass?” He jerked out the words without looking up.

“Yes. One hour and fifteen minutes exactly.” Barry nodded and picked up a syringe that lay on the table before him, and examined it intently. Presently he put it down, and looked up suddenly. “Anything wrong?” asked Alan anxiously.

“No, nothing wrong, but that syringe is something new of its kind. I couldn’t get the hang of it at first. It looks simple enough, but did you notice those valves?”

“I can’t say that I did particularly,” answered Dundas, glancing at the instrument.

“Well,” went on Barry, “the trouble in an injection of this kind is the risk of injecting air as well as fluid, and it plays the very devil if it does happen. Now, that syringe is so made that the fluid can pass and the air cannot. It simplifies matters for me. No, Dun, old man They were not taking any risks. Now look what do you make of that?” He turned to a page in the book and passed it across to Alan, who shook his head when he saw it.

“I couldn’t make head or tail of it when I saw it before. It’s heathen to me.”

Barry took a flask of colourless fluid from the casket, and compared it with the diagram on the page. “Notice how they have made the flasks all different shapes, so that there can be no mistakes apart from the colour. Follow carefully. See, both the spot where the incision is to be made and the knife itself are to be rubbed with this fluid. It’s an antiseptic solution, I imagine. You see, too, that the bandages themselves are hermetically sealed. I’ve got the hang of everything now. Everything is perfectly simple and straight sailing, though I wonder why the injection is to be made in the artery and not the vein. Still, it’s a case of obey orders if you break owners. I think we had better start at once. The only thing is, how are we to open these flasks?”

He took up one containing the green liquid. It was not closed by a stopper of any kind. The wide neck had been drawn out to a point, and fused, so that evaporation was impossible, and the only method of gaining access to its contents would be by breaking the neck. Dick rose and went to his bag and returned with a pair of pliers. Holding the flask firmly in his hand, he tapped lightly on the neck with the pliers. At the third stroke the glass snapped in a clean-cut line, about half an inch from the body of the flask, evidently as it had been intended to. Alan watched the proceedings with anxious eyes. An accident to the precious vessels meant irreparable disaster. When he saw the success of the experiment, he heaved a sigh of relief. “Risky business, Dick,” he said. “You had me on pins and needles then.” Barry was too absorbed in sniffing at the contents of the flask to notice the comment. “What’s it smell like?” Dundas queried, watching Barry’s face as he alternately inhaled with closed eyes, and then stared fixedly at the ceiling, groping for mental inspiration.

“Hanged if I know;” was the brief reply. Then, after a moment: “Doesn’t smell like any smell I’ve ever smelt before. I think that I had better put a stopper in until we are ready to use it. I should say it’s pretty volatile.” He plugged the mouth of the flask with a tightly-rolled wad of cotton-wool, and returned it to the casket. “Now, Dun, we’ll get that glass-case thing away. I suppose that lever merely locks it on.”

The two advanced to the crystal dome. “There would be no sense in locking it, Dick, if they left the key in the lock. I think the lever has some other purpose. Anyhow, here goes.” He knelt down, and taking a firm hold of the handle, drew it towards him. The action was followed instantly by a loud hissing, like the escape of steam, that died down in a few seconds. The two men looked at one another in silence a moment. “What was that, Dun?” asked Barry perplexed. Alan stood up and looked into the dome.

“Only could be one thing, Dick. There was a vacuum under the cover, and the lever let in the air.”

“Vacuum be hanged,” said Barry scornfully. “Why, man, the outside pressure would have shattered that glass to dust, it’s as thin as paper.”

Dundas shook his head. “You are wrong, Dick. It’s not glass — at least of the kind we know anything about. I’ve tested some of it before, and it’s tougher than steel. The pressure must have been tremendous, but it helped to keep the cover fixed on the rim. I expect we will be able to move it now easily. Go to the other two handles.” Barry obeyed, and at a word from Alan they lifted together. The great dome came away with an ease that surprised them. Had it been really made of paper it could not have been lighter. Where they had expected to find only the glass dome removable, and that the foot-deep metal ring would be set in the pavement, it came as an extra surprise that the cover was all in one piece, and was merely let into a circular groove surrounding the couch. They lifted it with infinite care in order not to injure the still figure beneath it, and carried it well out of the way and placed it on the floor. Then, moved by one impulse, they hurried back to the couch. Standing on either side the two bent over. Guided by professional instinct, Barry’s hand sought the wrist that lay beside her. For a little while he held it, then broke the strained silence. “Not a trace of pulse, Alan. Not that I expected it.” He said in a low voice: “Look.” He lifted the open hand slightly. “The joints are as flexible as if she were sleeping. Give me my bag, will you, old man?” When Dundas turned to the couch again Barry had just re-closed an eyelid which he had raised. “Dick, you won’t do anything outside the fixed routine, will you?” said Alan seriously, as he passed over the bag.

“Honour bright, Dun, I wouldn’t take a shadow of risk. I only wanted this.” He snapped open the bag as he spoke, and drew out a stethoscope, and fixed the tubes to his ears. Kneeling down, he adjusted the instrument over the heart, and remained motionless. He stood up at length and shook his head thoughtfully. “It’s no use professing to account for anything in her condition, for I’m absolutely at sea. The only thing to do is to go on as directed.”

Dundas, who was standing by, a prey to acute anxiety, nodded his head without speaking. He obeyed Barry’s directions mechanically, and assisted in moving a table close to the couch. Then he arranged the contents of the casket on it in the order in which they would be required. Dick looked at Alan’s shaking hand grimly, as he proceeded to open the flask containing the antiseptic. “Better let me do that, Dun, if you can’t pull yourself together. Great Scott, man! I must have help. Are you going to fail me?” There was a carefully regulated ring in his voice that stung Alan into steadiness.

“Dick, I’ll do what I can, but I’m not built of steel. Must I stand by? It seems sacrilege to me.”

The professional interest in Barry had overridden all other sentiment now the moment of action had arrived. The grand training of his order asserted itself. Brain and nerve had brought hand and eye to disciplined subjection, He proceeded with the work of sterilising both instruments, and the spot on the arm where he would have to operate, with perfect coolness. There was nothing in his demeanour as he answered to show the intense excitement he felt. “Listen, Alan. I can do without your help, but it would be taking unnecessary risks. You needn’t look unless you like, but you must be here in case I want anything.” As he spoke he filled the syringe with the emerald-coloured fluid, and handed it to Dundas. “Now, hold that, and the moment I ask for it, put into my hand.” Then he turned and knelt beside the couch, taking the glittering lancet from the table as he did so.

Alan turned his eyes away, staring fixedly at the curtained entrance, and tried to engage his thoughts by tracing the intricacies of its pattern. So tense was the silence that he could plainly hear his own heart beat. “Now, Dun! The syringe!” came Barry’s sharp voice, and Alan placed it in the outstretched hand. There was another space of silence, and then Dick rose to his feet. “Exact time, Alan?” he asked. “Four-ten,” answered Dundas, placing his watch on the table.

“Well, so far so good. Now we will have to wait until five twenty-five before the next. Old man, it’s going to be a mighty long hour and a quarter.” Alan moved restlessly. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t look if you wish, old chap; I’ve covered the mark with a piece of dressing.”

Dundas stood beside the couch, his soul in his eyes as he looked down. There was a dull feeling of surprise that as yet no change showed on the calm face on the cushions. Barry read the meaning of his look. “Don’t be disappointed; I don’t expect any alteration until after the next injection,” he said reassuringly. “I think we might reconcile ourselves to that!” Then after a tentative test with the stethoscope, he went on: “Do you know, Alan, there was not the slightest trace of haemorrhage? It’s a fact that may not appeal to you as a layman, but it fairly ties my existing ideas in a knot.”

“The details don’t worry me much, Dick,” answered Dundas. “The key to everything lies in the result of your work. I wish to God we knew for certain how it will turn out. The strain hurts.” He sank into a seat near by, and drummed nervously with his fingers. Barry, to distract his thoughts, began questioning him about his adventures from the beginning. He had time now to note the exquisite beauty of the interior decoration, and succeeded in drawing Alan into a closer examination of their surroundings. When they came on the strange keyboard near the entrance, Dick’s hand went impulsively towards it, to be hurriedly checked by Dundas. “Dick, for Heaven’s sake, don’t touch anything like that you may come across. You don’t know what kind of hell you may start off. The whole place is a mass of damnable machinery,” and in a few sentences he told the result of his meddling in the machinery gallery. Barry, properly impressed, sheered away from the too attractive keys and when he had finished a brief examination listened with breathless interest to the story of the opening of the “temple.”

Then the two discussed in whispers the course to be adopted in the event of success. Finally Barry agreed, if somewhat doubtfully, that Alan’s idea of allowing events to shape themselves was the best policy to pursue. For the last quarter of an hour scarcely a word passed between them. Barry busied himself with his preparations for the final injection, while Alan, to occupy his time, made ready the milk and the other nourishment under his friend’s directions.

At last the slow-moving hands of the watch indicated the appointed time. Without hesitation, Dick turned to the work in hand. In spite of his repugnance, Dundas watched the completion of the operation with fascinated eyes. It was over in a few minutes, and with deft and steady fingers the bandage was adjusted, and fastened into its place. “Now,” said Barry, “if there be any foundation for our belief, I think we will know it very shortly.” Standing on either side of the couch the two watched with fast-beating hearts. Minute after minute went by. Once Alan looked up at Barry, and saw that his gaze was fixed intently on the face of the woman. His lips were set in a straight line, and there was a look of intense concentration in his eyes. Again the long, strained silence. Then suddenly a low exclamation broke from the doctor’s lips. In a moment he was bending over with the stethoscope in his hand. Then he straightened up. “By God, Dun!” he stammered out. “No doubt now — distinct pulsations. Watch!” Trembling with excitement the two bent closer. As they did so the pale lips parted slightly, showing a gleam of milky white teeth, and there was the scarce-audible sound of a drawn breath in the silence, and a distinct, though slight movement of the fabric above the breast. Both men stood rigid, as if suddenly petrified. Beneath their awed eyes a miracle was being done. Slowly as the dawn a faint flush of colour spread over the pale cheeks, and a deeper hue to the perfectly curved lips. But with the flush of pink came something more, that seemed as if a veil that had rested on the pale features had been drawn aside. It appeared as if a soul had entered, and found a resting place. After the first sigh followed slow, regular respiration, and the swelling bosom beneath the clinging robe heaved gently in unison. Beautiful as she had looked before, they realised now, with the flush of life throbbing through her veins, that the woman they had first looked on was but a shadow of the one that was blossoming, like a flower, into glorious life.

Suddenly Dundas touched Barry lightly, and whispered: “Dick — we ought not to be so close. We may frighten her if she opens her eyes suddenly.” With a nod, Barry acquiesced, and the two moved silently away, and stood together at a little distance. “I think it will only be a question of minutes now, Alan, from the rate those drugs are working at. Good God! What a wonder!” This from Barry, in a tense whisper. He did not know then, so fascinated was he by the spectacle, that Dundas held his arm as if clutched in a vice, and left an imprint of his straining fingers that lasted for many a day. “Look, Dick! Look! The hand!” he muttered, and as he spoke the white hand stirred restlessly, and fell across the golden cascade of her hair. A moment later came a deeper sigh than before, and the head turned slightly on the cushion. Another sigh like the first waking breath of a child, and the long lashes trembled on her cheeks, and the white lids fluttered ever so slightly, and then — The gasp of rapture that rose to Alan’s lips was checked swiftly by Barry’s hand. Slowly the eyes opened, glorious deep, grey orbs — then closed, and were again unveiled. It seemed to both the watchers that the moment she lay, while dawning consciousness entered her eyes, would never end. Then it seemed as if the realisation of external things came to her like a flash. The white hand was flung upward to her forehead, then she raised her head, and looked around, and in doing so her eyes fell on the two silent watchers. A little cry broke from her lips, and she half raised herself on her elbow, looking them over with frank amazement, but utterly without fear. For a little space they remained so. Neither man could find a word to say, nor make the slightest movement, while the woman seemed unable for the moment to realise the import of their presence. Then sudden comprehension dawned in those soft, shining eyes. With a quick, graceful movement, she flung the cover from her, and sat up on the edge of the couch, but never for a moment did her gaze leave them. For a while she sat thus, then, as if in recollection flashed into her mind, she opened her closed hand, and looked long and earnestly at a brown stain on the pink palm.

Relieved for the moment of the intensity of her gaze, Barry whispered wildly: “For God’s sake, Dun, speak to her; say something, do something.” Alan pulled himself together with an effort, and stepped forward a little with outstretched hands. How he got the strength to control his voice he never knew, but control it he did, and said quietly and evenly, “Do not fear us, please; we are friends, and would like to help you.” At the sound of his voice she looked at his outstretched hands, and then into his eyes, and again her gaze fell to the dark stain on her palm. Very slowly she rose, and looked about her. Her glance swept the room from end to end until it rested on the table beside the couch, with its array of flasks and instruments. As if divining their purpose, she looked at the bandaged arm, until now unnoticed, and touched its wrappings with anxious fingers. Without taking the proffered hands, she passed Dundas slowly, and moved down the room to where the keyboard was fixed. Both men stood back as she passed, and watched her movements anxiously. Even in their perplexity they could not fail to note the graceful regal bearing of her figure as she moved. With definite purpose she touched key after key. Once an answer came in the deep musical note of a bell.

Whatever her reason was for this procedure, her perfect self-possession gave no signs as to whether the result was expected or unexpected. Without further hesitation she turned away, and, crossing the chamber, she stopped before one of the cabinets that had defied all Alan’s efforts to open it. In an instant, at a touch from her fingers, the carved front slid down and outward, exposing a case in which were set a number of dials, each bearing a pointer, and ringed with hieroglyphics. For a few moments she studied these intently, and then for the first time she showed evidence of deep feeling. Whatever she had learned from the contents of the cabinet seemed to move her greatly. When she turned towards the two men, who stood silently watching her, her face bore an expression of incredulous amazement. Again and again, as if to convince herself against her own judgment, she turned her eyes, first to the group of dials in the cabinet, and back to the faces of the men.

“What do you make of it, Dun?” whispered Barry eagerly.

“Appears to me as if those clock arrangements had told her the length of time she had been asleep,” answered Alan without turning his head. “If so, it’s no wonder she’s astonished. Dick, I’m going to try and speak to her again.” As if she understood what had passed between them, she left the cabinet and moved slowly towards the two. As she approached she completely regained control of her feelings. There was not the slightest look of apprehension in her face. Her grave grey eyes that turned from one to the other were full of curious interest. Alan advanced slightly to meet her, and Barry could not help noticing how well he looked with his square shoulders and fine athletic frame. “Jove!” he thought, “Dun is looking his best. I don’t know what kind of men she’s been used to, but she’s meeting one of the best specimens of ours now.” Within a pace of one another the two paused, and Barry watched the meeting with keen relish. For a moment they regarded one another seriously, and then a slow, sweet smile came to the lips of the woman, which instantly drew a responding smile from Alan, and his hand went out impulsively. This time there was no hesitation, for her hand immediately met his frankly, and so they stood for a few seconds, looking into each other’s eyes, but no word passed between them. Then, as if reluctantly, their hands fell apart, and she looked past him to where Barry stood with a smile of amused interest on his face.

There was a moment’s pause; then Dundas took the situation in hand. Turning towards Dick, and indicating him with a wave of his hand, he said slowly and distinctly, “Richard Barry.” Without the slightest hesitation she repeated the name softly, and walking forward she held out a hand to Dick, which was immediately taken. Then she turned and looked inquiringly at Alan, who stepped to her side, and touching himself, spoke his own name. This, too, was repeated, not once, but several times, and to Alan’s enchanted ears never was human voice more perfect. “Dun,” said Dick, with a short laugh, “you’re a winner — I’m a rank outsider. Congratulations.” Alan’s face flushed crimson. “Shut up, you blithering ass,” came the answer savagely. But Dick, hedged by the presence of the woman between them, went on: “No need for the blue silk and gold lace, old man. However, don’t you think it would be polite to offer the lady some refreshments.” Murmuring threats of vengeance, Alan went to the table and poured out a glass of milk. While he was doing this the woman watched every movement intently, and immediately saw his intention. As he held up the glass she approached without the slightest hesitation, and took it from his hand. Then she raised the glass to her lips, and drank the greater part of its contents before setting it down, shaking her head in the negative when he offered to refill it.

The two men watched for her next movement with the greatest interest. For a while she stood by the table in deep thought. Then she looked from one to the other as though she had come to a resolution. Taking her stand beside one of the seats, she looked at Dick, and then, calling his name, she motioned him towards it. Obediently Dick answered the call, and her evident wish for him to be seated. Then she pushed another seat close in front of him, ignoring Alan’s polite attempts to assist. When she had placed it to her satisfaction, she laid her hand gently on Alan’s arm, and drew him towards the seat, placing him face to face with Dick, and so close that their knees touched. The two men looked blankly at her, and then at one another. “What on earth’s the game?” asked Dick, somewhat anxiously. “I haven’t the faintest idea,” replied his chum. “Only I’m perfectly certain that she knows what she is about. I’m going to follow her lead blindly.”

“Oh, well, if you’re satisfied, I suppose I’ll have to be,” said Barry, resignedly.

While they were talking the woman listened, and, as if comprehending their perplexity, she smiled reassuringly. Then she bent forward, and, taking Dick’s right hand, she placed it in Alan’s left; then she joined the other two hands in the same manner. The pressure of her soft fingers made Dundas quiver, as if he had touched a live wire. “Seems like a new parlour game, Dun,” said Dick, grinning into his friend’s puzzled face. “Sit tight, Dick, and hang on to my hands. There’s more in this than meets the eye. Now, what ——?” As he was speaking she placed herself behind Barry’s seat, and drew him gently back until his head rested on the back of the seat. Then she spoke a few soft words, and placed her clasped hands across Dick’s forehead, looking down at Alan as she did so. “Keep quite quiet, Dick,” said Alan, in a whisper. “Let her do as she wishes.”

A few moments later Alan saw a strange look come into Barry’s eyes. “What’s the matter, Dick?” he asked, hastily. It appeared as if the other tried to answer, but before he could frame the words his eyes closed, and his whole frame relaxed. For a moment Alan made as if to rise, but a quick, warning glance from the grey eyes held him steady. Then the woman began to speak, looking all the time straight into Alan’s face. Alan listened fascinated. She spoke slowly, uttering the strange words in a soft, liquid voice. After a moment she paused, and the instant she did so Barry stirred restlessly under her hands, and commenced to speak. His voice came in a low, monotonous monotone, but very distinctly. “Alan Dundas, I speak to you through your friend, Richard Barry, and through him your thoughts may be made known to me. Will you answer the questions I ask?”

“I will gladly answer,” said Alan, instantly. Then, to his amazement, the unconscious Barry spoke a few words in the same strange tongue that he had heard the woman use. She smiled at him gently over Dick’s head, and then spoke again, and so the dialogue went on through the unconscious interpreter.

“Who gained entrance to the great sphere?”

“I did, but I did not know that it was a sphere.” There was a puzzled look on her face as she put the next question.

“Why did you not know? Could you not see?”

“No, the place we are in is buried beneath the ground. I was digging, and discovered it.”

She paused reflectively, and went on. “Did you alone find your way to my resting-place, or did others help you?”

“I alone. I live at a distance from any others, and kept the secret to myself.”

“Then who besides yourself knows of my existence?”

“Only one other — Richard Barry, my friend. When I gained entrance to this place I knew I had not the skill to call you back to life, and so I called on him for help; but first I made him vow to be silent, until it was my wish that he should tell of the discovery. In this matter we will obey your will.” Alan watched the glorious face before him keenly while the unconscious Barry translated his words, and it gave him a deep thrill of joy to see that his answer had given her unmistakable pleasure. The dazzling smile he received was more than payment for all the weary work and risk.

“For that I thank you, Alan Dundas. Now tell me are there many people in the world?”

“Very many millions. How many I do not know, but the world is very thickly populated.”

“Can you tell me how far back the history of the human race is traced by your people?”

“Roughly, we have a clear record for two thousand five hundred years. Beyond that we can trace it for three or four thousand years, but not clearly.”

His answer seemed to interest her deeply, for it was some little time before she spoke again. “What you tell me causes me great grief, for you tell me of a great calamity of long ago. Of that you shall hear later. You wish to be my friend?”

“Indeed, I do,” and there was no doubting the sincerity of his answer.

“Then tell me if you can keep my existence a secret until I wish it to be known?”

“That, indeed, I can and will do. I can answer for Richard Barry, as I can for myself.”

“Then, Alan Dundas, that is my wish. Further, I desire to remain unknown until I am able to speak your own tongue. Is there more than one language spoken in the world?”

“There are very many languages, but the one I am speaking is the most widely known. That I will teach you gladly.”

“Then I will trust you, for I know well that I may. Until you have taught me to speak your language I will remain here. The reason I will tell you hereafter. There are many things I must learn, too, before I can go amongst the people of the world. These things you must teach me.”

“Everything in which I can help you I will gladly do.” Alan spoke from his heart, and another smile was his reward.

“Now I must bring your friend to himself again; it is not good to hold him so.”

“Wait,” said Dundas eagerly. “You have not told me by what name we may call you?”

“I am called ‘Earani.’ The name means ‘The Flower of Life.’”

Alan repeated the name softly, and she nodded at each repetition with a faint smile of amusement.

“Truly, you are well named as a flower,” he ventured.

Her eyes challenged his over Barry’s head. “But there are many kinds of flowers.”

“But none more beautiful than the flower of life.” He risked it with a beating heart.

A slow flush came to her cheeks, and Barry stirred restlessly under her hands. For the first time her eyes fell slightly. “See, we put too great a strain on your friend.” She moved her hands a little.

“One moment more. You have not told me about food for you. I must arrange for that.”

“There is no need for you to trouble. There is food and all else I require for many years within reach.”

“May Richard Barry come and see you and help in the teaching?”

She divined his thoughts. “Yes, he may come, but I will not speak to you again until you have taught me how. Now we must stop. First, though, tell me is it night or day?”

“The day is just closing.”

“Then you will tell all that has passed between us to Richard Barry? Afterwards you will leave me here and return while the morning is yet young?”

“I will do your wish, but I do not think I will tell Richard Barry everything. I will omit a little part of it.” There was a look in his eyes she could not fail to interpret.

“If you have spoken nonsense I do not think your friend would care to hear it.” Then, without giving him time to answer, she removed her hands from Dick’s forehead, and, coming quickly round, she separated their clasped hands.

Almost immediately Dick, who had been lying limply in his seat, opened his eyes in a dazed and sleepy fashion, and looked inquiringly at Alan, who sat smiling before him. “What happened, Dun? I feel as if I had been drugged.” He pressed both hands to his eyes. Earani, who had been standing beside him, passed her fingers lightly over his forehead, and in a moment, he sat up, looking from one to the other for a solution of his perplexity.

“I never saw it done before, Dick, but you’ve been mesmerised, and through you I have been told the wishes of Earani.”

“Mesmerised! Well, I’m blessed.” He stood up. “And if the conversation was not absolutely confidential, I’d like to know what I’ve been saying.”

“No use getting shirty, Dick,” answered his unabashed friend. “I didn’t know what was going to happen, but if I had known I wouldn’t have warned you. It was most interesting.” And he proceeded to give the mollified Dick an account of his involuntary interpreting. While they were talking Earani had returned to her couch, and, seated at the foot of it, she watched the two with grave interest. With movements that showed an utter lack of self-consciousness she drew the shimmering cascade of her hair on either shoulder as she sat, and with deft fingers twined it into two arm-thick braids that fell below her waist. To Alan, who could not keep his eyes from such a fascinating picture, it seemed as if she were twining some part of himself in to the golden mesh, and, to Barry’s huge disgust, the narrative became almost incoherent. “It seems to me, Alan, my boy, that I’m not the only one that’s been mesmerised,” he said testily. “Go on, man; what next, after she said her name was Earani?”

“Oh, nothing much, except that she wants us to clear out of here, and leave her until to-morrow. Dick, isn’t she wonderful?”

“Not as wonderful as your behaviour; you’re positively gaping. Didn’t you ask her how they worked the suspended-animation business, or what those drugs were?”

“Oh, we’ll get that in time, you one-eyed drivelling old body-snatcher. Dick, I’m going to teach her English. Think of that.”

“My sacred aunt! Then, if that’s a specimen, she’ll have a dazzling vocabulary. Didn’t you even ask her about food?”

“Of course, I did. She says she has enough to last her for years.”

“I’d like to see it,” said Barry, whose professional curiosity had outweighed all other interests.

The two approached the table, and proceeded to put it in order, and Barry, who was determined to gain one point at least, opened a small jar of concentrated meat and showed it to Earani, who was watching their movements curiously. She took it from him, and examined it with keen interest, then she replaced it on the table, and went to one of the huge chests. She opened it without difficulty, and took out a small phial, containing about a dozen white lozenges. She shook out two or three on the table, and, taking one, she placed it in her mouth. The two men hesitated a few moments, but Earani picking up two more with her dainty fingers, held them out, and dropped one into the hand of each. Alan put his into his mouth immediately, but Barry examined his curiously, and then looked up. “What’s it taste like, Dun?”

“Can’t say — a little saline. Try your own.”

“I think I’d like to analyse it. It may be a whole meal,” answered Barry.

“I hope it is, then. I haven’t had anything since morning, and that seems days ago. Talk about my behaviour, do you usually analyse what refreshment your hostess offers you?”

Dick chuckled. “I’m a married man, Dun, but I’ll risk it. I wish I had your simple faith, though,” and he followed Alan’s example by putting the lozenge into his mouth. “Now, Alan, my son, it’s seven-thirty, and I think we had better say good-night to Madam or Mademoiselle Earani. I wonder if that wound is right, though.”

He pointed to the bandages inquiringly. Earani touched it lightly, and shook her head with a smile. Barry snapped the clasp of his bag, and took up his hat, and Alan, seeing no excuse possible for lingering, followed his example. Divining their intention, Earani walked with them towards the curtained doorway. Alan lifted the curtain, and she passed out into the portico, and walked to the spot before the chair where Dundas had discovered the hidden button. She stooped and examined the place for a moment, and looked up at him smiling. “You had plenty of luck to find the right spot, Dun,” was Dick’s comment.

“Not luck, dear chap — brains. Earani knows it, too.” As if though to confirm his own estimate, she stood up and held out her hand to him, with a few soft caressing words that made Alan’s heart thump as he took her soft fingers into his.

“Look here, Dun, I’m not going to stay here all night while you teach your foundling English. Kitty will be worrying herself to death,” and Dick turned to walk towards the ante-chamber. Earani called his name softly and brought him to a standstill; then beckoning them to follow, she led the way, not to the ante-chamber but round the back of the “temple” towards the great translucent doors that led to the vestibule. They followed in silence. Arrived before the closed doors Earani bent down and pressed with her fingers on a spot in the mosaic pavement near the wall, and instantly the great doors silently slid apart. This disclosed the metal curtain that had crushed Alan’s hopes of entrance by that means, and incidentally his plank bridge, by which he had hoped to span the trap before it. The look she gave Alan showed that she quite understood what had happened, but, not the slightest disconcerted, she crossed over and pressed the pavement again on the other side of the doorway, and with a deep booming the curtain ascended, opening the way at last directly to the vestibule. “By Jove, Dun! No wonder you said the place was full of machinery. This saves a long walk, though I’d like to have another look at that Art Gallery.” He was stepping forward, but Alan caught him back.

“Steady, Dick; ’ware sudden death!” Dick balked and looked from Dundas to Earani inquiringly. The latter, who understood Alan’s action thoroughly, stood in the doorway a moment, and with deft fingers manipulated part of the moulding in the frame. Then without the slightest hesitation she crossed the threshold and stood on the trap itself, which remained firm as the surrounding pavement. In a few words Alan told Dick of the hidden danger beneath their feet, and Barry gave a terse and caustic opinion of the place and its construction in return.

The three paused at the foot of the stairway, and Alan with a sigh realised that he now must really lose sight of Earani, for the time being at least. With the two doors now open, the vestibule was flooded with light, and it seemed a proper setting for her regal beauty. Dick, who made the move, for he realised that if he left it to Alan, that dazzled man would linger indefinitely, so bowing to Earani, he held out his hand and said good-night, and commenced to ascend the stairway. Until he was half-way up Alan waited; then he took her hand gently and whispered: “Good-night, Earani beloved!” That universal language that has no spoken words nor written signs, said more than words or deed, for Earani answered in the same low voice in imitation of his words: “Good-night, Alan Dundas, beloved!” Alan knew that the words to her were words only, but inwardly he registered a wild vow that sooner or later he would teach her their meaning, and hear them spoken in good faith. Meantime the shadow was something, if he could not have the substance. Then he turned and followed Dick, who was impatiently calling from the upper landing.

Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 169-200

[Editor: Changed “had made no illusion to” to “had made no allusion to”; “his fiend’s blushing” to “his friend’s blushing”; “best specimens of our’s now” to “best specimens of ours now”; “antechamber” to “ante-chamber” (in two places). Removed the quotation mark from before “I’ll bring the lamp”. Added a quotation mark after “now. Come on.”]

Speak Your Mind