Chapter 18 [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 XVIII

The two men were obliged to climb the winding stairway in the dark, as Alan, with his wits full of one subject, had forgotten the acetylene lamp, and, in consequence, that weary journey, long at any time, seemed endless.

They emerged at last, breathless, into a cold and uninviting night, that made a keen contrast with the wonderful surroundings they had so recently left. Not a word passed between them as they walked to the homestead. Arrived there, while Alan lit his lamp, Dick dropped back into the cane lounge, and produced his pipe. Dundas adjusted his lamp to his satisfaction. Then he came to anchor in an arm-chair, and reached for a pipe from the rack beneath the mantelpiece. Until a cloud of smoke encircled the head of each, no word was spoken. Finally Alan broke the silence with an interrogative “Well, Dick?” Even then it was some minutes before Barry answered. “I suppose I’m awake, Dun. I’ll take it for granted that I’m sane, but upon my word, I’d almost doubt it if my legs didn’t ache so infernally from climbing that everlasting corkscrew.”

“It took me a long time to get over that feeling,” then after a pause, “Man to man, Dick, say what you think.”

Barry eyed Alan over the bowl of his pipe thoughtfully before answering. “Do you know, Dun, that it is by saying what one thinks in abnormal circumstances, that a man runs the risk of losing a pal, even his best. I’d like to sleep on it.”

“Tosh, man, get it out! I’m not a kid, and this is no subject for a kindergarten.” He smiled at Barry’s wrinkled forehead. “Counsel for the prosecution will now address the court.”

Dick smiled, in spite of himself. “All the same, old man, it’s the least humorous situation I’ve ever steered into. Do you consider the possibilities?”

“I’ve done nothing else since I first set feet on the floor of the vestibule. Dick, I’ve argued myself into imbecility, and finally found that the only thing was to let matters take their course. At any rate, for weal or woe, we are committed to secrecy.”

“Speaking from a purely personal point of view, I’m not sorry,” said Barry reflectively. “To tell a yarn like this in cold blood is inviting comment on one’s mental state. On the other hand ——” He broke off, and stared blindly at the blue smoke over his head.

“Well, on the other hand?” queried Alan.

“We may,” went on Barry, slowly, “be committing the greatest blunder, if not the greatest crime against society the world has ever known.”

“It’s a crude way of putting it, Dick, but I’ll admit something of the kind has struck me before, but would trumpeting the thing to the world at large improve matters? I doubt it.”

Barry sat up straight on the lounge, which creaked under his weight, and waved his pipe largely. “By thunder, Dun,” he broke out, “you ask me to speak man to man, and I will. Apart from Earani, there is enough in those galleries to start the nations raiding. Even from the merest superficial knowledge you have how, you must see the possibility of powers there that will make the individual or nation that possesses them supreme in the world, and absolute supremacy for man or nation is the worst thing that could happen to him or it or the world. Do you think for an instant that a government would let an individual get hold of those powers? Or do you suppose that other nations would let one government keep them if there was a ghost of a show of stealing them? Dun, there is enough potential trouble under our feet to make this place of yours the storm centre of hell itself.”

“On your own showing, Dick, secrecy is the better plan,” put in Alan.

“Well, is it?” went on Barry. “Remember it’s bound to come out some time. But I said at first, ‘Apart from Earani.’ Dun, old man, without the slightest personal reflection on her, I believe she is the greatest danger of all.”

Alan laughed good-humouredly. “Dick, old man, without the slightest personal reflection on yourself, you’ve got rats in your garret,” he mimicked.

“Maybe,” answered Dick, laughing. “An affair of this kind is apt to breed that kind of rodent, but I’m not blind, Dun. God knows, no one could blame you, whoever laid eyes on her.” He spoke very soberly. “I’ve heard of the fatal gift of beauty. A medical man is supposed to see a patient and nothing else, but when I saw her lying there the sheer glory of her almost took my breath away. Thank God, I’m safely anchored, but there are men who would knife you for a word from her.”

“I’ll believe you there, Dick,” said Alan grimly, “there is not much I’d stop at for her.”

“Just so, Dun, I understand; but that’s not all. Judging from appearances, she is as highly endowed mentally as she is physically, and if I’m not mistaken there is nothing in those galleries that she does not understand. Why does she want to remain hidden? Simply to get a working knowledge of our world and then to use her own knowledge for her own purposes? God send that those purposes are benevolent and not malevolent.”

Alan listened with half-closed eyes to Barry’s words. For a while he remained silent. “Granted everything you say is right, Dick, we can alter nothing now. Suppose I gave you permission to speak, if you got anyone to believe you, do you think the course of events could be altered? I doubt it. We lost control of everything the moment Earani rose from the couch. No, Dick, arguing is no good. We’ve just to go on. I can’t believe that a creature so perfectly beautiful can do anything but for the best.”

Barry sighed and knocked the ashes from his pipe. “I’ll keep in touch, Dun, and do what I can. Apart from everything else, I’m starving to get at those galleries again.”

“Great Scott, Dick!” said Alan, jumping up, “you must be starving for food, too. You must have something before you go.”

Barry laughed. “What about yourself, Alan? I thought you said when we tried those lozenges you were feeling famished?”

Dundas paused with a surprised look on his face. “Well, that’s queer. It’s nearly half-past eight, and I’ve had nothing since eight this morning, and before I took that lozenge I felt positively hollow, and now — well, I’m feeling quite comfy, and well fed. I wonder?”

“My symptoms exactly, Dun,” returned Dick, “but I’ve been watching for them myself, and watching you, too. Under normal conditions you would have gone straight for a feed as soon as you came back. Instead, you sat down for a smoke. It seems to me that we had a meal in tabloid form.”

“It’s a mere detail, I suppose,” said Alan from the cupboard. “I’m beginning to accept that sort of thing as perfectly natural. By Jove! Dick, what a field we have before us.” He placed two glasses, a sparklet, and a decanter on the table. “Since we’ve dined, this is the only kind of hospitality that occurs to me.”

“Oh, well, a small one, then, and I must be off. I promised Walton I’d look in at the hospital when I got back.”

“Oh! That reminds me,” said Alan suddenly. “I must write a note. Will you post it for me? I won’t be long.”

“Fire away, old man; I don’t suppose ten minutes more or less will make any difference now,” and Barry resumed his place on the lounge with his glass in his hand. Dundas took writing material from his drawer, and for a few minutes scribbled industriously. He felt it a relief, as things fell out, he had but little time to reflect on what he had to write. There was an uneasy feeling at his heart that he was not altogether playing the game. However, this was the note that Barry presently put into his pocket for the mail:—

“Dear Miss Seymour. — It was indeed kind of you to think of inviting me to dinner, and I am more than sorry that I am at present not altogether master of my own movements. That I am not is doubtless my own fault. However, as things fall out I am tied to ‘Cootamundra,’ and am likely to be for some time to come. The work I have undertaken, although successful, carries with it the penalty of absolute retirement, so I trust you will forgive my refusal, which at a later date will explain itself. If you should see Dr. Barry I have no doubt that he will assure you that I have no idea of taking holy orders. — Yours very sincerely, Alan Dundas.”

He sealed the letter without reading it over, and handed it to Barry.

“By the way, Dick, Bryce has kindly spread the fiction for me that I am studying hard, to account for my absence from Glen Cairn. He does not know a single fraction of what has happened. He did it blindly for me. I hope you don’t mind keeping it up for me if you are asked?”

Dick chuckled. “Not altogether fiction. If anyone can claim to be studying hard, you can. I might also say you have started a school, but I won’t. Dun, I envy you, that’s a fact. I do ask, though, that you’ll let me share when you can.”

Alan walked with him to the car. “I’ll expect you out every time you can get a chance. I’ll want someone to talk things over with. Another thing. To-morrow will you order a selection of all the child’s alphabet and picture books and first readers, and anything of the kind you can see, to be sent out? You know the sort of thing I want. If I’m starting a school I might as well do it properly.”

Dick promised to do his best, and the two shook hands. “God send we are not doing anything we’ll be sorry for, Dun,” said Barry soberly, “and for you especially I hope things will turn out well. I don’t want to croak, but we are taking devilish big risks. Good night, old man.”

“Good nightol, Dick. Remember me to Madam Kitty. Tell her that I kept you, and make my apologies.” Dick sent the clutch home, and the car skimmed off into the darkness, and until the glare of the headlights disappeared round the track Alan stood watching it thoughtfully. Then, regardless of the chill night air, for a long hour he paced the verandah, with his thoughts in a golden cloud. And, ever as he walked, before his eyes rose a vision of starry eyes set in a face of heavenly beauty.

Alan was astir early next morning. He made his toilet with unusual thought and care for his personal appearance. Then he set about his household work with a light heart, and for the first time for many days his voice, raised in song, boomed through the old homestead. He prepared his breakfast and washed up, and went through all the rest of the domestic routine with his thoughts full of the day before him. When all was finished and his house in order he went to his book-shelves and busied himself over the selection of half a dozen volumes best fitted for his requirements. It took him a long time to make up his mind, for comparatively few of the books in his library were illustrated. First he put aside a fine atlas. His next choice fell on an old school prize illustrated with photographs of the world’s famous and historic buildings. Then, after much inward debate, he selected four volumes of travel that contained pictures showing the world in its most varied aspects. By the time he had completed his task it was nearly ten o’clock, so, deciding that he might reasonably pay his first call at this hour, he strapped the books together and made his way to the shed, having first procured a second lamp from his dogcart to supply the place of the one he had left behind the night before.

Light of heart and quivering with expectation, he made his way into the depths. Arrived at the first landing, he extinguished his lamp, and descended into the vestibule, alert for any sound that might indicate the presence of Earani. At the foot of the stairs he halted. All was as he had left it on the preceding evening. The great vestibule was flooded with light, showing the statued group in the centre in strangely lifelike guise. Not a sound broke the stillness. For a moment his heart fell. Could anything have happened to her, he wondered. For a while he listened motionless, and then to warn her of his coming, he called her name aloud, “Earani! Earani!” And then almost instantly his heart gave a bound of joy — for the words had scarcely died away when in answer came the clear, sweet voice, “Alan Dundas,” and followed by a few words in her language.

Again calling her name, Alan hurried to the sixth gallery without further hesitation. As he came to the portico of the “temple” he saw her standing on the threshold, holding back the curtain with one hand, and as his eyes fell on her he stood stock still, with one foot on the step. The glory of her beauty came on him with overwhelming force. Truly she was the same woman he had seen lying in silent majesty on the couch, the same as he had seen flush back into glowing life, but now there was an added freshness to her loveliness. It seemed as if the few hours of new life she had lived had added something to her; she seemed to radiate vitality. The gown she had worn before was changed for one of pale gold that fell from her neck and was caught at the waist by a pliant, glittering metallic band. Over it was a cloak of deeper hue, held in place by an iridescent clasp on either shoulder. As she stood looking down on him, with a smile of friendly welcome on her lips, Alan felt that no man of his race had ever before gazed on such a picture. So they stood for a moment, and the man, safe in her ignorance of the meaning of his words, said softly: “Oh, beloved, beloved; God send that I may teach you all that is in my heart or my life will be of little value to me hereafter.” Perhaps it was the ring in his voice or the adoration in his eyes that lent meaning to his words, for, though her eyes never left his, he saw again, as he had seen before, a deeper flush come over her face as he stepped forward and took her outstretched hand. Then she drew aside the curtain, and they entered side by side.

At the first glance Alan saw that Earani had used the time at her disposal to effect certain alterations in her surroundings. Across the far end of the “temple” and cutting off about one-third of its length, there hung a gorgeous curtain that divided the place into two compartments. The couch still remained in its place, but nearly all the other furniture had been rearranged, and for the moment Alan found time to wonder how her unaided strength had enabled her to move the various pieces that had before tried his strength to the uttermost. He noticed, too, that she had adorned her quarters with several objects that he recognised as coming from the art gallery, and he was deeply impressed by the taste and discrimination with which the alterations had been carried out. It appeared as if she had done everything possible to make her surroundings harmonise with her personality. As he approached the table they had been using the night before he saw lying on it a number of the cased volumes that had doubtless been brought there from the library. It was apparent that Earani had been struck with the same idea on the matter of communications that he had and it was with no little pleasure that Alan found she evinced the deepest curiosity in the volumes he carried with him. No sooner had he removed the straps than she eagerly took possession of them, skimming through them quickly one after another, all the while keeping up a running comment in her melodious tongue.

It was not until she came on the atlas that she paused seriously. At the first sight of the map she gave a little gurgle of pleasure, and, drawing up a seat to the table, she motioned Alan to do the same. Her manner was perfectly natural and free from affectation, and the interest she displayed was evidently no mere feminine curiosity, but a deep and sincere desire for information. With the atlas before them, she pushed it before Alan with the intention that he should act as instructor, and it was with wonder that he found how little there was he could show her that she did not immediately comprehend. When he turned to the Mercator’s projection and the pages showing the hemispheres, she pored over the maps long and thoughtfully, here and there running her fingers along a coastline, murmuring to herself the while, and again turning to him with some quick question. Alan found it increasingly difficult to devote his attention to the book with the overpowering distraction of their intimate proximity, and his eyes were oftener on her white hands than on the map, and his thoughts were more of her eyes than of the division of the globe into land and water. For some time she appeared to be trying to make him understand some point in which she was interested, until at last Dundas arrived at the idea that she wanted their own position shown. Taking his pocket knife (which was immediately carefully examined by her and handed back) he marked the point on the map of Australia where “Cootamundra” would be, and then turned to the detailed maps to show her the more exact position. After a close study of the place, turning from map to map, she stood up, and motioning him to remain seated, ran lightly from the room. She was only a few minutes absent before she returned, breathless from her hurry, bearing in her hand a volume from the library, and spread it open beside the atlas. It was Alan’s turn to mutter exclamations of surprise now, for Earani turned from page to page, showing him charts of the world that were new to his eyes and yet in some details strangely familiar. They showed land in some places where he was used to seeing water, and the continents in some places took strange outlines. But with it all was one great difference. The whole scheme of things seemed altered with regard to latitude. Masses of land that he recognised in outline as belonging to the southern part of Australia were placed near the equator, and there were other displacements and dislocations that set up between the two a chatter of inquiry. It was evident to Alan that Earani understood the reason of his perplexity, and held the key of the puzzle, and seemed only too eager to impart her knowledge; but after a vigorous comparison of the two maps Alan was left as much as ever in the dark. In the end Earani laughingly took the two books, closed them with a bang, and put them aside.

Then she turned to the works of travel, and here they were on more even ground, and it was from the pictures that Alan started to give his pupil her first lessons in English.

If you ask a person whose lot it is in life to act as instructor to the ignorant in any subject, his or her opinion of teaching as a profession, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the answer will be that the calling is one of hopeless drudgery. To Dundas, who was now undertaking it for the first time, his role of instructor appealed to him as the most fascinating and delightful experience of his life. He could sit side by side with his pupil, and look into her eyes as he talked to her, and laugh with her as her red, sensitive lips framed words that were new to them. He illustrated the words he taught her practically, and ever as they talked deep in their work, her ready wit met his half way or more. Even in the first hours of their intimacy Alan came to recognise that the intelligence of his pupil was of no mean order. Her memory was phenomenal, and rarely, if ever, did a word once given her escape her mind. The pictures they had before them proved a splendid ground for study, and Alan was never tired of watching her face light up with each object of interest that came under her notice.

Growing tired of the books at last, she led him out into the gallery, pausing, much to Alan’s trepidation, to add to her store of English, by an entirely self-possessed and unconcerned analysis of the anatomy of the three figures in the portico. From him she had quickly picked up the phrase, “What is it?” and this was ever on her tongue, and before they had resumed their walk she had mastered the names of every limb and joint in the human frame, with a total unconsciousness of her teacher’s uneasiness. They passed down to the marble ante-chamber, and here Alan found that by some means, best known to herself, she had overcome the trouble of the outrageous noises that made it such a nerve-racking ordeal to cross. He had paused as they came to the doorway, but she had gone on unconcerned, and turned and beckoned him forward, smiling. She stayed for a few minutes before the statue, looking at it thoughtfully, and then passed to the corridor till they came to the spot outside the machinery gallery, where Alan’s curiosity had ended in such startling results. Here a surprise awaited him. Every vestige of the masses of cement torn down by the explosion had disappeared. He had long before cleared away the lighter pieces to make a convenient passage, but there were larger pieces that had defied his attempts to move them. How in the few hours at her disposal she had managed to complete the work was a mystery that no amount of chatter between them could, for the moment, clear up. That Earani understood the cause of the wreckage was evident from her leading him directly to the innocent-looking machine that had caused the trouble. There Alan showed her in pantomime what had happened, and from her concerned air, he realised that the danger that he had escaped was greater than he suspected. She motioned him to stand aside, and for some time busied herself with the machine, which showed itself to be more complex than it appeared. It was not until her deft fingers had removed the lever that operated it that she was satisfied with her work. To Alan, who stood by, absorbed in her every movement it was patent that she was thoroughly familiar with its mechanism.

The task completed, they wandered through the gallery, and ever as they went the words, “What is it?” came with a ceaseless repetition that strained his knowledge of mechanics to the breaking point. When they arrived at the great doors leading to the vestibule Earani immediately operated the mechanism that opened them. In this, as in everything else that she did, Alan was struck by the assured certainty of her movements. There was no hesitation or pause for thought, although, in this instance and that of the remaining three doors which she afterwards opened, the key was concealed with marvellous skill in different parts of the doors themselves, so that their discovery would have defied the closest search by anyone ignorant of their secret. Another matter that was subject of attention was the pitfalls in the vestibule, which were visited in turn and secured by Earani against danger to life and limb by much careful adjustment of concealed mechanism.

Amongst other things she visited the stairway, where the hidden blade had been in action, and here the weights, still hanging on the step, told their own tale, a tale that she was quick to read and appreciate.

And so they wandered on from gallery to gallery, and everywhere she added new words to her store. Dundas tested her memory again and again at every turn, and in each instance the correct answer to his question would come without hesitation or mistake.

When they arrived at the Biological Gallery Alan showed some repugnance at entering, but Earani’s white hand placed on his arm drew him forward with his scruples banished. Without pausing to examine or question him on the gruesome exhibits, she walked with him directly to the statue at its entrance from the vestibule, and came to a stand before the table that bore the instrument that had excited his curiosity in the hands of the statue. He had endeavoured before to remove the cover from the table, but without success, and, after the first attempt, had abandoned the idea. Now, however, at the touch from her fingers on the frame of the cover, Earani raised the glass shade, and removed the instrument. Alan watched her with the deepest interest. With her eyes she questioned his knowledge of its use, to which he pleaded ignorance with a shake of his head. Standing close in front of him, Earani raised the metal circlet in both hands, and set it on his head. It fitted closely round his forehead, without discomfort. The wires attached on either side held the small cylinder suspended dangling to his waist, Taking the cylinder in her right hand, she placed the open end against her left wrist, and, looking up at Alan, she closed her eyes. Dundas watched the performance with lively curiosity, and took advantage of her momentary blindness to feast his eyes anew on her face. In a moment she opened her eyes, and, laughing softly, shook her head in mock anger, and repeated the word “eyes” several times. Then, as he could not guess her meaning, she dropped the cylinder, and her two soft hands went up to his face, with a touch that made him quiver. Then she quietly pressed down his eyelids, and, understanding what her wishes were, he kept them closed.

He could feel her move the cylinder again, then suddenly he started back with a cry of astonishment, and stood looking down in amazement at her wrist. Earani still held the cylinder in her hand, and regarded his astonishment with evident amusement. He had ample cause for his surprise, for when he had closed his eyes, and only then, because the impression ceased as soon as they were opened, it appeared as though the wrist of Earani had become transparent, and showed with perfect distinction every tissue, muscle, and blood vessel as if formed in glass. He could see the blood pulsing through every vein, and every movement of the tiny valves as it passed through them. It was only a fleeting glance, for, so soon as he realised what he saw, he started back. The sensation was a curious one, for every surrounding object was out of range of vision, and it seemed as if he had looked down a cylinder into her wrist.

Still smiling, Earani placed the cylinder in his hand, and indicated his own wrist, and, urged by his curiosity, Dundas repeated the experiment on himself, and, for a long time, stood with closed eyes fascinated by the wonderful mechanism revealed by the apparently simple cylinder. As he stood he felt Earani’s gentle touch on his hands, and all became dark. Opening his eyes, he saw that she had removed the instrument from his wrist. Then approaching more closely, she placed the lens against his neck. Obeying her mute orders, he again closed his eyes, and Dundas realised to the full how fearfully and wonderfully we are made, by the vision of pulsing torrent in vein and artery, and the perfect harmony of movement in muscle and tissue revealed. Unused as he was to such things, his great wonder at what he saw overcame his repugnance, and when he finally opened his eyes he dimly realised how much this wonder he held in his hands deserved its place of honour in the gallery.

Earani returned the instrument to its place, and together they wandered into the great vestibule. Here Alan, indicating the stairway, invited her to ascend, but, standing at its foot, she shook her head, and many days passed before she finally ventured into upper air. Instead, they returned to the “temple,” and Alan continued his tuition.

The day was far spent when he finally left her, more desperately fascinated than before by her beauty and charm. It was the first of many such days, and time for Dundas fled on golden wings. Barry was a constant visitor to “Cootamundra.” He had carried into effect Alan’s wish for books, and the short interval between each visit he made was marked by a progress in the pupil that was a constant source of astonishment to both men. They were not long in discovering that the intelligence of Earani was of no common order. Her phenomenal memory was the least of her powers. Whatever was given to it was retained clearly and accurately, but what was more remarkable was her ability to apply unerringly and unhesitatingly the lessons that Dundas gave her in the rules that governed the language. In a fortnight she was able to make herself understood clearly, and at the end of the month she had a command of English that anyone who was unaware of the circumstances would have judged had taken a year or two of study to absorb. In addition to this she had learned to read and write. Not easily, it is true, but with a proficiency that left her two tutors in a constant state of wonder. Where another would have tired with the constant strain of the work involved, the progress she made only seemed to whet her appetite for more, and when she had mastered the elements of her task Dundas discovered that when he left her at the day’s end, as she always insisted, she enlarged on her lessons when she was by herself.

On one point, however, Earani was adamant in her resolution. She had decreed that until she became mistress of the language she would tell them nothing of the mystery that surrounded her, nor would she allow them to penetrate the secrets of the galleries. She told them both that her reason was that until she could unfold her story fluently, and without fear of being misunderstood, she would not touch upon it at all, and no attempts on the part of either Alan or Barry could make her waver.

With such a reward in sight, Dundas strove with her to reach the desired point of proficiency, and the task involved far more than he had expected. Command of the English language was not all she demanded. An outline of the world’s political history and its social customs was a minor part of the rest. She wanted a knowledge of government, ancient and modern, of laws new and old. Her demands on Alan’s scientific knowledge strained his slender resources to the breaking point. It was a fascinating task for Alan, apart from the delight he took in being constantly in her society. That wonderful memory he had to deal with made the work very easy. Nothing that was ever given to it was lost or mislaid. There was no feeling for the right word when once it had been stored in her mind. In eight weeks she could read almost anything that was given to her, and once she had gained this point her progress increased by leaps and bounds. Alan selected her books carefully from his library, and alternatively they read aloud to one another. In accent and inflection she imitated him exactly, and more than once some phrase or expression of Alan’s falling from her lips caused Barry to smile in spite of himself.

Apart from the pleasure that both took in instructing their pupil, there were occasional flashes from the hidden depths of her mind that gave them food for reflection. One day Alan had given her an outline of the history of the Constitution of Great Britain, and a general survey of the Empire and the Imperial idea, and from that had drifted to the Constitution of the Commonwealth. She had absorbed it all, making very little comment, as was her custom, merely interposing with an incisive query on any point on which she was not quite clear. “That is as it should be, Alan,” she said at the end. “It is well that the people should choose their own lawmakers, and, of course, the people are wise and choose the greatest and noblest minds amongst them for a position so high.” It was a comment rather than a question as she said it, and as Alan felt disinclined at the time to enter into a lecture on the party system he let it go at that, with certain mental reservations.

However, on the next day he found that a weekly journal had published a double page, giving portraits of the whole of the members of both the Federal Houses. As a matter of interest he brought her the journal, and showed her the portraits. For a long time Earani sat absorbed, and watching her, Alan saw that her eyes went from face to face and stayed for a little while with each. In the end she looked up at him. “Alan, my friend, but you jest with me. These are not the lawmakers of a nation.” Alan shrugged his shoulders, and glanced round at Barry, who had come in while Earani sat absorbed in the portraits. “It is true, Earani,” said Barry; “those are the men that the people have chosen to rule them.” She sat in silence for a space, staring doubtfully from one to the other. “Why do you doubt it, Earani?” asked Alan, smiling at her serious face. She answered quietly, “I have the gift of reading the faces of men, and in that I cannot fail. You show me rogues and fools, and you show me some who are both. Amongst them all there are few whose faces bear the marks of the nobility that should alone fit them for such an office, and yet you tell me that these are your lawmakers chosen by your people.” She stopped and picked up the page that had fallen from her lap, and spread it on the table before her. “Look,” she went on, and the two men stood beside her as the condemning finger passed from face to face. “You see it printed there — lust of power; avarice; a rogue — another. See this one with a mind a little better than the beasts. Could he weigh good from bad or right from wrong? Could this one foresee or gauge the effect of any law?” And so on from face to face, summing up each in two or three caustic words. Once she paused. “Though they are not all the same — here is one — this is a leader and a man. Were they all like this the people had done well. What is his name, Alan?”

“He is known as Sir Miles Glover, and he is the Prime Minister of the country. He has been honoured by our King for the work he has done for the country,” answered Alan.

Earani looked at the clear, clean-cut face and nodded while Barry put in, “Sometimes they call him Cold Steel. He has few friends, but those that don’t love, trust him.”

Earani spoke. “That is likely. Such a man does not make friends easily, especially amongst such people.” She waved a contemptuous hand over the legislators. “I will remember the name. Later I shall have use for him.” The two men looked at each other over her head, and Earani tossed the page aside. “Are your people mad, or is this the best the country can get for the work? Of them all only two or three are fitted for it.”

Barry chuckled with delight at Alan’s irritated face. “Come, Dun, give Earani the history of Party Government, and tell her of the wisdom of democracy.” And Alan, half amused and half angry, explained how the candidates were selected and finally elected.

“So that,” said Earani at the end, “if there are only two parties in the State there are only two candidates?”

“Generally speaking, that is so,” answered Dundas.

“Even supposing one were a great and good man, and the other but a tool for the party leaders, would not the people choose the better man?”

Barry interposed. “If the greatest statesman who ever lived opposed a nominated hod-carrier, with the brain of a chimpanzee, the statesman would not be elected in some of the constituencies; in fact, in most of them. The preference of the people is for the party’s nominee.”

“The preference of swine for offal,” was the terse comment. With her hands on the table before her, Earani stared in front of her with unseeing eyes, unheeding Barry’s huge delight at her words. Presently she spoke in a low voice, and as one thinking aloud. “Ah, there will be a great killing — a great killing.” Then she stood up. “Come, Dick, there are things you must tell me before you go,” and she led the way to the Biological Gallery. On both her hearers the few absently-spoken words left a deep impression, and although more than once Alan attempted to learn her meaning, she deftly turned the question aside.

In these visits to the Biological Gallery Barry was in his glory. Once her brain had mastered the scientific nomenclature Earani proved herself to be versed in the subject to an extent that staggered the doctor, and at times left him breathless with a hint at theories undreamt of in his philosophy.

Since he had been shown the wonders of the cylinder, he had been made Earani’s abject slave by the promise that when the time came he would be allowed to reveal it to the world. Alan’s part in these demonstrations had been that of a subject or an onlooker, and in his own mind it was difficult to decide which role he liked least. For on the first day it had been put into his hands, Barry raved deliriously on its wonders and its revolutionary effect on medical science. “See what it means, Dun, dear boy. No more blind groping in the dark. No more summing up of symptoms and guessing at causes. Man alive, think of it! I can fill you up with drugs and note the effect on every organ just as it occurs. We will be able to watch the progress of every disease under the sun.” He had delivered himself, so, kneeling over Alan’s prostrate form, pausing now and again with the cylinder pressed to his body, and muttering incoherently with closed eyes. Earani stood by, smiling at his enthusiasm, which she brought almost to a tearful climax by showing him how to adjust the instrument in order to get microscopic results.

With Alan as a not altogether willing subject, Earani and Barry would join in demonstrations over his body with a detachment from his personality and a disregard for his feelings that called forth a storm of protest from their victim. Barry’s compliments as to his perfect physical organisation were no compensation for the treatment he received, although he realised that so far as he was concerned neither one nor the other was aware of his existence for the time being apart from the subject under discussion.

He had revenge on Dick, however, when that worthy came into conflict with Earani on technical subjects. Beyond their outline Alan was at sea as to their importance, but he could not fail to observe Dick’s indignation at her calm and assured smashing of some of his most revered theories, or her smiling disregard for the argument he adduced to support their tottering fabrics. It was with huge delight that Alan saw expressions of amazement give way to blank dismay at some carelessly dropped remark from Earani. Neither man could help feeling that her positive statements were made by reason of an assured knowledge of her subject. To Alan there was only a mischievous delight at Barry’s defeat, but for Barry her voice stirred a veil that no man of all his order had hoped to approach, and vaguely he foresaw the opening of vistas undreamt of by the world.

It was not long, however, before Barry recognised the master mind and eagerly sought her wisdom, and if he was eager in seeking, Earani was not slow in giving. So it came about that at times, Alan listened to staggering discussions. He was no prude, but there were moments when he felt his cheeks grow hot while Earani and Dick argued on matters Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis have merely whispered. He need not have worried: it but needed a glance at the calm, dispassionate face of Earani to know that to her the subject was one that caused her no reason for self-consciousness. Often she quietly referred some astonishing phase of the matter to him with as little embarrassment as if she had mentioned the state of the weather. And they realised that questions that scientists discussed in the dead languages and at long range were to her matters for everyday discussion rather than ones to be avoided.

These visits left Barry in a strange state of perturbation. One evening when Alan chaffed him over some recent defeat at Earani’s hands, he turned on his tormentor. “Dun, my friend, you wouldn’t be so festive on my account if you realised as much as I do the meaning of it all. If I were to propound one fraction of what Earani leads me to believe or hope for, my brethren in the profession would first tear me to pieces, and then fling the bleeding fragments into a lunatic asylum.”

“Knocked some of your precious theories out, Dicky?”

“Pulverised them,” answered Barry shortly. Then he went on: “And believe me, Alan, I’ve an idea that biology is not her strongest subject. I firmly am beginning to think that there is not a single thing in those galleries she does not understand.”

Dundas smiled incredulously. “Oh! come off, Dick. Why she’s only a girl. On your own showing she knows more about medicine and surgery than you ever dreamed about. How could it be possible that at her age she could have given time to any other subject?”

Barry was putting on his gauntlets, and turned, flapping the empty fingers at his friend. “You remember last week, when she let me inspect her brain through that cylinder, and you so rudely refused to follow my lead?”

“Of course I do,” answered Alan; “it seemed to me to be a beastly idea. Even you, from your expression, didn’t like it.”

Barry regarded his friend thoughtfully. “You misread my expression, Dun. I got a shock, and I’ll admit it, but not the kind you imagine. Her brain, my dear boy, is the most astonishing organ I ever beheld. It is as far in advance in development of mine or yours as ours is in advance of an ape’s. Apart from anything else, I should say that its weight is half as much again as my own, and in other respects — well, as a layman, you wouldn’t appreciate the difference; but if I described it to Walton, for instance, he’d say I invented the yarn, and I wouldn’t blame him, either.”

“Then from your point of view she’s as perfect mentally as she is physically?” said Alan.

“Just so,” answered Barry, and then, after a pause: “Did you ever find out what she meant by “a great killing” in reference to our noble legislators?”

Alan laughed. “Surely you don’t take that expression literally, Dick?”

“Not quite,” answered Barry, stepping into his car. “Although we could spare a good many of them. Still I’d like to know what she meant.”

“Perhaps Earani was merely thinking of a reform in our legislative system. She didn’t seem to take kindly to the present state of affairs.”

“Humph. In that case she will have one enthusiastic supporter, at any rate. Good night, Dun,” and the car hummed off into the dusk. In spite of his calm acceptance of Alan’s comment, Barry’s thoughts were very sober as he sped homewards. Vaguely in his mind was the thought of a great shadow that overhung the world.

Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 201-227

[Editor: Changed “her own purposes.” to “her own purposes?” (added a question mark); “What about yourself, Alan.” to “What about yourself, Alan?” (added a question mark); “watching you. too” to “watching you, too”; “anything else. I” to “anything else, I”.]

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