Chapter 19 [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 XIX

As time went on Alan came more and more under the dominance of Earani’s bewildering personality. His constant association with her added fuel to the passionate love he bore her. Barry was his only visitor, and he seldom left his vineyard. From early morning to late in the evening he spent his time with her in the galleries. Dick viewed with concern his friend’s growing infatuation. He had an uneasy feeling that the association could only lead to calamity for his friend. Deep as their friendship was, he dared not speak to Alan on the subject. In his heart, too, he felt that even if Dundas would permit a warning, such a course would be useless. He realised to the full the effect that Earani’s glorious beauty and charm must have, and more than once, to his own self-shame, he felt himself thrill under a glance from her soft, grave eyes or the light touch of her hand, and did penance for his involuntary disloyalty to Madam Kitty. So he could only watch.

In some respects Alan was happy. He enjoyed to the full her constant society. In spite of her over-towering mind, he found her exquisitely feminine. She was, however, no creature of moods. Under all circumstances she displayed the same unruffled calm, and always there was the same womanly softness in voice and bearing. Sometimes, as they sat together, she would call a halt to their lessons, and by the power she held over the keyboard in the “temple” she would fill the great gallery with immortal music — music that lifted Alan’s soul to paradise with its glory. These were days to remember, and feel thankful for the joy of living. On the other hand, away from her presence, he was beset with forebodings as to his fate. In his soul he felt his absolute unworthiness to be the mate of this radiant being. Who was he that he should aspire to the first place in her heart? So deep was his reverence for her that he knew that, though the blow would break his life, he knew also that he would accept her decision without a murmur if it went against him. Again and again he crushed back the words that came storming to his lips that would decide his fate. The fear of an answer that would be the end of all things for him kept him silent. In his heart he knew that she would not expect him to consider that their strange relations should seal his lips from motives of chivalry. Earani was too calmly aloof and too much a law unto herself to be troubled by conventions. He realised thoroughly that when the time came that he should speak, her answer would be given with no other thought than for his and her interests. So he lived on with her, alternating with a hope that left him weak with wild longing, and a fear that crushed his heart to despair.

It was at the end of the third month that Earani began to tell them of the mystery of her being, for she reserved the revelations until Barry was there to hear them. It was one afternoon when the three were seated together in the “temple,” and the talk had touched on the subject of geology. Barry had hazarded a second-hand opinion on the length of time that life in any form had existed on the earth. “Ah, Dick, my dear boy,” (she had long adopted Alan’s form of address), “how wildly they guess, those scientists of yours. Come: I will show you.” She took Alan’s atlas from a table near by, and with it a volume from the library. Then she called them both to the couch beside her, and with the books on her lap to illustrate her meaning, she told them of the world’s past. “You remember, Alan, how you showed me this map on the day after you recalled me to life?” and here she turned to the map of the world. “Strange as it was to me then, I knew what it meant, although the chart I was used to was so different. See, here it is,” and she opened the other volume. “Before my eyes were closed in the long sleep in which you found me, this was the world I knew. See, although it is so altered, many of the lines are familiar.” Their three heads bent over the maps before them, and with her dainty forefinger Earani traced the many places, still almost the same, on both charts.

“Do you mean, Earani, that since you knew the world it has altered so?” asked Alan.

“Indeed, it has altered, this old world. Can either of you wise ones tell me the cause?” She looked smiling from one to the other.

Dick shook his head. “I pass — Alan, I leave it to you.”

“And you, Alan?” Her soft white hand fluttered to his arm. “Tell this Dick, who knows everything, how this old world was wrecked to build a new one in its place.” She smiled into his eyes.

Alan shook his head in turn, but before Earani could speak again he broke in: “Wait, though. It may be that I can guess. Some of our men hold that at one time the axis of the earth has moved, and that the shock must have dislocated the whole of the surface. I have always thought this theory fantastic, but it may fit.”

Earani laughed softly, and nodding her head, she turned to Barry. “Ah, Dick! You see Alan can use his head as well as that great strong body of his. My teacher is worthy of the office.”

“Was that really the cause, Earani?” asked both men together.

“That, indeed, is what happened. Ages and ages ago the world was inhabited by a race of human beings just as it is to-day. It was a race that had gone through all the trials and struggles through which yours has passed and is passing. Some day I will tell you of it; at present let it suffice that the race had attained to the greatest heights humanity is capable of when the great calamity befell.”

She paused for a moment, as though the picture of the great lost past saddened her. Then she spoke again, and her voice came in a little more than a whisper. “Our people knew of the blow that threatened long before it fell. They were too great to fear for themselves; but they knew that on the ashes of the wrecked world another race would arise. They knew, too, that the new race would have to pass through the same great trials before it won to its own high place. What they mourned was that all the great works of their brains and hands should perish utterly. That their race should vanish was a small thing compared with the danger that all their great ideals should vanish with it.”

“Can you think of what it meant to those who had helped in the great work, and the men who knew the value of it? A little perhaps you can understand, but very little, unless you knew the people of the lost world. Oh, so long ago! And yet it seems to me so very near.

Then after a little silence she spoke again. “And so they determined on a desperate effort to preserve their knowledge for the benefit of the people that were to come again. They had but two hundred years in which to work. Little time enough for their work, but it sufficed. On each of three carefully selected spots on the earth they built a great sphere such as the one we are now in. In the building of them they brought to bear every grain of the great lore they had, to win their purpose and make them invulnerable against the great calamity. Into each of them when all was ready they gathered together a specimen of all their art and science. The means of holding life suspended had been known for many generations, though it was but little used. Then it was determined that into each sphere one person should be placed to form the link between the old world and the new.”

“Why only one in each?” asked Alan, who was following the story with burning interest.

“The question was deeply debated at the time,” she answered. “Although we knew that for any ordinary time the body could be kept in a state of suspended animation, yet there was no certainty that the ages that must pass before reanimation took place, if it ever did, would not cause the attempt to fail. Our people did not wish to condemn more than would be necessary, to the risk of a terrible fate. There were so many and such terrible dangers for the chosen ones to face. So in the end three were chosen.”

“How chosen?” asked Barry, eagerly.

“In the first place,” she answered, “volunteers were called for. Thousands answered the call. It was no thought of self-preservation that brought them forward. Each one knew that there were dangers to be faced by those who were selected that were worse than the death that the race had to meet, but none of the old race feared death. To them it was but an incident. No; each one was animated by the hope that in the end it would fall to his or her lot to carry the light from the dying race to the race unborn.

“All over the world councils were held, to which the candidates were called, and the most fitted were sent forward to a central council, where the final choice was made; and so it fell out in the end that I, Earani, was thought worthy of the great honour. Why? Fate, I think; for amongst so many there would be but small difference.”

“Earani — tell us,” broke in Barry. “You say there were three great spheres. The others — what of them?”

She rose to her feet and walked to the keyboard that had been her first thought on the day she had awakened. Turning, she faced them. “The master builders who contrived this work left nothing to chance, This keyboard is in everlasting connection with those in the other two. Only absolute destruction could break the tie. Listen!” Her fingers moved swiftly on one section of the board. Then she stood still watching them. No sound broke the silence. After a moment she spoke. “There is no answer to that call, and so I know that one has failed to stand the strain of the wrecked world.” Again her hands fell on the keys, and this time a deep clear note of a bell answered her touch. “You hear,” she cried. “So Andax lives and waits for his release.”

Dundas and Barry looked at her in silence. The news of the existence of a second sphere affected them both deeply, but in different ways. To Barry, the news that another being of the type of Earani could be brought to reinforce her, increased the feeling of uneasiness that had already gained hold of him. Alan, however, saw in the news only a threat against his love for Earani. “What,” he thought, “would happen were a man of her race to appear on the scene?” Surely he would be her fitting mate in every way? What chance would he have against such a rival? The thought sent a feeling of blind jealous rage through him. It was he who broke the silence. “Tell me, Earani — this Andax you speak of. Is it the name of a man or woman of your race?”

Earani left the keyboard and walked towards them. “Andax,” she said thoughtfully, as she paused before them. “Well, Andax is a man.” She looked from one to the other and smiled. “He is a man, too, who would be difficult perhaps for you to understand without knowing him.” She sank into a great carved chair facing them. “When I said that volunteers were called for, for the long sleep, I did not make myself quite clear. It was decided one hundred years before the great disaster fell that one of our race should occupy each sphere, and from that time until the selection was made our race occupied itself with the idea that fitting representatives should be ready when the time came.”

“Each generation was watched with increasing care. The welfare of the unborn was almost a religion with us, aye, it was a religion with us. Some day it will be so with you when your eyes are opened. Every rule for the blending of human blood had been laid down long before, and we knew the type of man we wished to breed, and worked for it.” She turned in her chair and looked down the “temple,” where the curtains were drawn wide, out into the gallery beyond at the statue that was framed in the doorway leading to the ante-chamber. She waved her hand towards the statue. “That was the man who first laid down our laws of race making, and Andax is directly descended from him. Ah! he was a man, and Andax is an improvement; he is twenty generations of careful breeding better. Alan, why are you looking so angry?”

Alan pulled himself up. “Truth to tell, Earani, I don’t like that face; it looks absolutely pitiless.”

She nodded slightly. “Yes, perhaps you are right. The breed had little weakness about it. But that breed did great things for our world. All of our best carried the strain. I have it on both sides, not much, but enough to tell, and the blood of the old doctor holds it in check; but in Andax it is almost pure. I grew up with him and know him well. He has intensified in him all the characteristics of the breed. In appearance he has the same high forehead and sparse hair, the thin nose and the wide nostril, the straight, lipless, mouth, and the steel bright eyes.” She gave a little laugh. “Not one of the race ever had a heart. They carried an organic pump in the thorax that was no use except to keep their brains alive.”

Barry listened with a sense of fear he could not control, but, hiding it as best he could, he said: “Your picture isn’t exactly fascinating, Earani; I should imagine he would not be altogether a genial companion.”

She nodded. “Andax would not appeal to many people. He tolerated me. He regarded me as a useful fool; in fact, he told me he did. He was my tutor in surgery for my year’s course, and afterwards I had two years under him for engineering. He was angry about that. He said that if I would let him graft one lobe of his brother’s brain on to my brain he would put me through the course in one year, and I refused.” She laughed lightly. “It was then he told me I would never be anything more than a useful fool, and he was furious because I took up law and literature instead of government and domestic science.” She paused a little. “Pitiless was perhaps the right word, Alan. Cold, passionless, and calculating, all of them. Absolutely inflexible. They saw one goal ahead, and went straight to it. There was no thought of self-interest with any of them and no desire for power or authority for its own sake. They looked on our world simply as one great experiment for them. They were unflinchingly honest even with themselves. Andax there would have vivisected me or anyone else without anaesthetics if he thought the result would ultimately benefit the race, and at the same time he would have sacrificed himself just as surely. And mark you, my friends, there are stories of their doings I could tell you that are not good to hear, but there was never an act of theirs, however terrible, that did not bring a greater blessing in its train.”

For a while there was silence; each of her hearers was busy with his own thoughts. The picture Earani drew of the other being awaiting release affected them both deeply. Then Barry spoke. “This other sphere, Earani; you know where it is? Can you find it?”

“Yes,” she answered; “there will be no trouble about that. Wait, I will show you.” She took the two maps to the table and bent over them. “From your maps and ours I have worked out the alteration of the axis; the rest is easy.” She paused now and again with closed eyes, as though mentally calculating. Then — “Yes, that will be about it, roughly, about 74 east and between 36 and 37 north. About here.” Her finger indicated a point to the north of India. Alan turned to the map in the atlas and ran his finger over it. Then he gave a low whistle. “Pretty spot, isn’t it, Dick? Right in the middle of the Himalayas, about four hundred miles north-west from Simla.”

“What kind of country is it, Alan?” asked Earani.

“In the world’s greatest range of mountains. Almost impossible country amongst eternal snow, and only partially known. Earani, a search there would be hopeless,” answered Dundas, with rising spirits. “Why the sphere might be buried beneath the mountains a thousand feet.”

“It is likely you are right,” came the unruffled answer. “Indeed, it is almost sure to be so, for before the disaster that spot was a great tableland. Still our work will be simple. Once we reach the locality I can ascertain the position of the sphere with absolute accuracy, and the rest will be easy.”

“Even if it were buried?” interposed Barry.

“The depth is of no importance. A thousand feet or ten thousand, I have the means at hand. You will understand later.” Her calm assurance left both her hearers hopeless. She dismissed the matter with a gesture of her hand. “Time enough to talk of Andax. First I must be ready to tell him all he will want to know, and believe me, he will be hungry for knowledge when the time comes.” Barry looked bewildered, and Earani, noticing his expression, smiled. “Oh, Dick! There are so many things you do not know yet. What troubles you?”

“I was wondering at the moment how old Andax is, or rather was, when he started the long sleep.”

“We were born in the same year,” she answered. “He is just twenty-five. The twenty-seven millions of years don’t count,” she added laughing. “I don’t look my age, do I?”

The two men gave a gasp. The figures stunned them, but there was another matter that was beyond their comprehension. It was Alan who gave it expression. “How is it possible that at that age he was your tutor in your studies, as you say, in surgery and engineering?”

“It is simple when you understand the mental powers of the man. By the time he was fifteen he had gone through every course of science we knew. For generations his brain had been developed. Perhaps” — she turned quickly to Barry — “you have seen my brain, Richard, and your own. Now I can give you an idea. His brain is comparatively more developed over mine than mine is over yours. If you can realise that you can realise what I mean. A mental effort that would wreck your mind would pass his unnoticed.”

Dick nodded. “I see,” he chuckled. “It took me six years to go through my medical course. I wonder how long it would have taken him? About a month, I suppose.”

Earani looked up. “Indeed, Dick, judging from your brain, you must have worked very hard to do it in the time.” The comment was made so simply and was evidently so free from malice, that Dick joined Alan in the shout of delight that followed it, and for the time being they forgot their forebodings.

It was in this way that Alan and Barry obtained their first knowledge of the past of the dead world, and the glimpse, slight as it was, only whetted their appetite for more.

That evening, before they finally separated, the two men were thoughtfully silent. It was only at the last moment that Dundas said, “Dick, I don’t like the idea of Andax. He seems a pretty large order to let loose on the world.”

Barry realised his friend’s real reason for disliking the idea, but passed it without comment. “I like it even less than you do, Alan, but it’s my opinion that our desires in the matter won’t be considered. Our only hope is to try and use our influence for the best. For the rest it is on the lap of the gods. Good night,” and he passed into the night in an odour of petrol.

Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 228-239

[Editor: Changed “to much a law unto herself” to “too much a law unto herself”; “dear boy, (she” to “dear boy,” (she” (added a closing quotation mark after “boy”); “Indeed. it has altered,” to “Indeed, it has altered,”. Removed the quotation marks from before and after “What chance would he have against such a rival?”.]

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