Chapter 30 [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 XXX

On the morning following at “Cootamundra,” Dundas and Earani were astir early. That day was to see the end of their preparation of the galleries, and on the following day they were to bring the parts of their airship to the surface to be assembled. Indeed, their preparations were complete, and their work for the day was mainly one of inspection and revision, to see that nothing necessary had been forgotten.

When Dundas reached the “temple” Earani was already at work, and greeted him gaily. On the table stood a large chest, in which she was packing sundry phials and boxes, which, she told him, contained food for two for a year. Not that it would be wanted, for there were ample supplies in the other sphere, but they must leave nothing to chance. Then she gave him a long robe to be worn over his clothes. It was made of a very light, but thick, material. “Our journey will be a very cold one, beloved, and that robe will be your protection. Put it on now, and see what will happen.” Obedient to her wish, he wriggled himself into its soft folds, and in a moment stood before her transformed into the likeness of a monk, even to the cowl which she drew over his head. She looked at him, smiling, and said, “Now wait a few minutes,” and as he waited he found a warm glow set up through his body, that increased every minute, until it became uncomfortably hot, and he was glad to rid himself of it before he had worn it five minutes. “You will be glad to wear it later, Alan. Indeed, our journey would be almost impossible without these robes. The heat is caused by chemical action, and with them we can defy the bitterest cold of those mountains, and work in comfort and safety.”

Dundas tossed the garment to a chair. “There is one thing you have not told us, most wonderful,” he said, taking her hand. “We will be away from ‘Cootamundra’ for an indefinite time. How will you guard what we leave behind? It would not do for intruders to find their way in during our absence.”

She nodded her head. “That is so, Alan, and I have not forgotten. Come, and I will show you.” She led the way to the machinery gallery, where parts of the airship littered the gangways in apparent disorder, and came to a halt before a pedestal bearing a metal box measuring about a foot each way. Earani placed her hand upon it, and said, “It doesn’t look much, Alan, but this will be our watchdog, and not all the armies in the world would overcome it without knowing its secret.” She raised the lid, and disclosed half-a-dozen screws and knobs protruding from an inner cover. “It’s merely a variation of the gravity machine that will carry us to Andax. We will carry a similar one with us, and leave this one in the shed on the surface. Before we leave I will set it to a radius, of, say half a mile, and the one we carry with us will be adjusted in the same manner.”

“And then,” asked Dundas, “what happens?”

“Just this. As our machine recedes from the one we leave behind, the stationary one throws out a repelling force over the area to which it is adjusted, and within the boundaries of that area no earthly force could penetrate.” She paused as she saw the perplexity in Alan’s face. “It is difficult to make it clear, but it is as though the force of gravity were inverted. A man, or a thousand men, could no more push their way over the line of repulsion than they could spring into the air and remain there, and the nearer the centre the more intense the repulsion. There is nothing to see or feel. There is just an inert, impalpable force that cannot be overcome until our machine again neutralises it.”

Dundas laughed lightly. “That will be something in the way of a surprise for any unauthorised investigator, dear heart. Dick Barry, for instance, would wonder what had happened if he tried to cross the line in his motor-car during our absence. I must write and warn him.”

Earani nodded, smiling. “Yes, you had better, though he would be more surprised than hurt if he charged the line of resistance. In our time the use of these repellers was forbidden by law except under certain circumstances.”

“But why?” asked Dundas.

“Well,” she answered, “unless the spot were buoyed or marked there would be nothing to show there was a repeller in action, and, with a population that used the air to the extent that we did, an unmarked area left too many openings for trouble. An airship travelling at three hundred miles an hour would crumple up as if it had struck a rock. So, you see, there was some necessity for restrictions.” Dundas smiled thoughtfully. “Yes; in that case Dick had better be warned; but it would be rather interesting to watch someone trying to claw his way through. However, it’s a comfort to know we can leave the place unguarded.”

They turned away to their work, and it was after midday before they returned to the “temple” for a rest. Earani had saved Alan the trouble of bringing food with him when he spent the day in the sphere, for their meal consisted of a tabloid or two, and he had become accustomed to this unusual means of nourishment, though he could not reconcile himself altogether to the absence of that feeling of good fellowship that comes with the meal eaten in the company of a friend.

This day found them in thoughtful mood. When they reached the “temple” Dundas went to a couch and drew Earani down beside him, and circled her with his arms. For a long time they stayed in silence, cheek pressed to cheek in a happiness so complete that neither cared to break the spell. It was Earani who broke the silence at last. “If we work very hard to-morrow, Alan, I think we will be able to leave on the evening of the following day. In four days from to-day we should be able to number Andax as a friend and an ally.”

Dundas sighed. “I’m foolish, perhaps, heart’s desire, but I fear that unknown Andax. Fear, I mean, that he might come between us.”

“Oh, foolish one, you are,” she said, laughing. “He will need you almost more than he will need me, and he dare not break the vow he is under. Apart from that, he will need my help too much to come between me and my desire.” Her soft hand stroked his hair tenderly. “Andax will regard our love, perhaps with cynical amusement, that would be like him, but he will tolerate it for his own ends. Forget your fears, Alan.” She broke off suddenly and sat up. “Would you like to see him now?”

Dundas looked at her in perplexity. “No, Earani, how can I see him now?”

“Oh! I can show him to you,” she answered merrily. “I was looking at him only yesterday. More magic — come, and we will inspect the great Andax as he is waiting for us.” She stood up and took his hand. “Hurry! Hurry!” she went on, laughing like a school girl, and drew him after her, through the vestibule to the third gallery. There she paused before a great circular disc set in the wall. Below it was a keyboard bristling with keys and levers. Between the disc and the keyboard were set an array of staring dials.

Earani waved her hand towards the disc. “Now we will see some real magic. Behold!” Her white hands fluttered over the keyboard and pressed a gleaming button. In an instant the dark face of the disc vanished, leaving a white polished metal surface in its place. She turned to him smiling. “The window of the world, Alan. Now, watch.” Her hand moved swiftly here and there over the board. “Thirty-six, thirty-two north, and seventy-four eighteen east,” she said aloud. The metal surface flashed into life, and blurred shadows danced across its surface. The shadows took shape, and Dundas uttered an exclamation as he watched. It seemed as if he were looking through a window into a new world; a world of titanic desolation; mountains heaped on mountains of snow and ice. There were cloud-swept peaks and snow-blocked ravines, and across them all swept a devastating storm. Earani turned and smiled at him. “We will need our warm robes, Alan. You were right about this place; Alan; it has changed since I knew it.”

“What is it?” he asked, bewildered.

“That is the spot where Andax lies,” she answered. “Only he is somewhere below; not far. Look where that roundness shows on the cliff below. That is the side of the sphere that is only partly buried. Now we will go deeper.” Again her hands moved amongst the keys. This time more delicately than before, and as she did so the disc darkened again and again flashed into light.

“Now!” she exclaimed, “I have it. Watch!” The blurred shadows on the disc took shape, indistinctly at first, as if in a lens out of focus. Then the picture flashed clearly into view, and Dundas gave a gasp of astonishment and was silent. Mirrored on the disc, so clearly that it seemed as if they were looking through a sheet of clear glass, there showed the interior of a great room. It was in many details similar to the “temple” they had just left, but it was the “temple” as he had first seen it. Right before them in the centre of the picture showed the crystal dome, and beneath it a figure was lying enthroned. After the first glance Dundas saw nothing but that still, majestic form. Andax was lying with his head pillowed as had been Earani. A crimson cover had been thrown across his body, but the arms lay outside rigidly on either side. Naturally above ordinary height, he seemed in his recumbent position a veritable giant. But it was the likeness of his face to that of the statue in the vestibule that appealed to Dundas most. There was the same high, round forehead and thin, aquiline nose. There was the straight, almost lipless mouth and the square, firm chin. But seen in the flesh, even lying as though in death, the figure before him filled Dundas with awe. There was about it an indescribable air of majesty and power. Dundas realised, the longer he stood there, that in the face of Andax was intensified every feature of his ancestor that bespoke immense, almost immeasurable, intellectual force.

When Dundas spoke at last it was in a whisper, as if he feared that his voice might break in on the rest of the still form before him. “Oh, Earani, he is wonderful beyond words. What a man! What a man!”

She smiled and nodded. “No need to tell whose blood he bears, Alan. Eukary arranged that one branch of his line should be kept pure. If one wanted proof of how our race bred itself one need only point to the statue and then to Andax.”

Alan answered, still almost in a whisper: “No doubt of that, but he is a greater man than Eukary.”

“Yes, Alan, twenty generations better and finer. The brain is bigger and better, but ——” She paused.

“Well?” he asked, his eyes still on the figure beneath the dome.

“We found that in breeding to a line like that” — she nodded towards the recumbent figure — “what we gained in one direction we lost in another.”

Dundas turned to look at her. “Lost, dearest? What was lost?”

Earani thought for a moment, and then said, slowly: “You would call it soul; we had a word that meant ‘spirit force.’ They became more and more human machines. Magnificent, but had our world lasted longer, I think the line would have been broken. There was a point beyond which we dared not take it. He” — she waved her hand towards the disc — “he could control himself. Perhaps in a generation more the mere machine would have been stronger than the spirit.”

“And then?” asked Dundas.

“And then it would have been better for all concerned to obliterate the whole line.”

“A pity,” said Dundas, “but necessary, I suppose.”

Earani looked down at the quiet figure before them. “Yes,” she repeated slowly, “a pity, but necessary. I have heard him discuss the matter himself, and say that but for the sake of the experiment the line should be carried no further, or that the blood should be diluted.” She laughed lightly. “Always with his breed it was the ‘experiment’; the sufferer did not matter. It will be a good thing that he will have plenty of experiment to occupy his time for a good many years to come.”

“It is very wonderful, dearest,” said Dundas presently, looking up at her. “I feel almost as if he could hear us speak, that reflection is so real.” For answer Earani drew over a lever and turned to him. “So he could now, Alan, were he awake, and, what is more, we could hear him if he spoke.”

Dundas smiled. “I believe it because I must, but it seems incredible.”

“Why incredible?” she asked. “A hundred years ago your ancestors would have had more reason to doubt your telephone or telegraph had it been described to them. It is only a question of applied science — science greater than your own. I will prove it.” Again, in answer to her touch, the disc darkened, and once again the blizzard-torn landscape flashed into sight, but this time, as the vision cleared, there came to them the howling roar of a tempest. It was uncanny to stand and watch the storm, and hear it, too, in the calm, still atmosphere of the gallery — hear it so plainly that when he tried to speak Alan’s voice was lost in the mighty uproar, until, with a touch of her hand, Earani stilled the sound.

She smiled at him. “We could hear a whispered word as easily, but the storm was the only sound I could get for you then,” and, as she spoke, her hands blotted out the scene, and in a moment nothing but the polished disc remained.

“Tell me, Earani,” he asked, “could you show any part of the world as easily?”

“Just as easily,” she answered. “Near or far, it makes no difference. That instrument was called by us a name that means the ‘window of the world.’ Two friends ten thousand miles apart could stand face to face to speak with one another.”

Dundas laughed. “It would be a joke to find Barry and speak to him. Could he hear us?”

Earani nodded. “We could both hear and see him, but he could only hear us.”

Again Dundas laughed. “Dick would think we were spooks. It would be a lark to find him. Could you, dearest?”

Earani’s eyes flashed mischief as she caught the infection from Alan. She nodded her head and turned again to the machine. “It can be done,” she replied. “Hold this firmly,” and she placed his left hand on a lever. “Now, take my left hand in your right — so — now concentrate your mind on Dick, think of nothing else.” Her right hand touched lever and button, and the mirror flashed into blurred life. Minute after minute went by, and the dull flickering images danced over the metal surface. Earani kept her eyes on the disc anxiously for a while, then she turned suddenly to Dundas. “Alan, had you heard that Dick was leaving Glen Cairn?”

“I have not seen him for days,” Alan replied, “but I don’t think it likely he would go. Why do you ask?”

“Because,” she answered quickly, “I have covered the country for a radius of fifty miles, and he is not within that radius or he would have shown on the disc.”

“You are sure, dearest?”

“Absolutely,” she answered. “Can you think where he would be likely to go?”

Dundas paused before replying. “Unless he has gone to Melbourne for some purpose or other. I can think of nowhere else.”

Earani looked at Dundas thoughtfully. “Alan, you gave him my warning?”

“Of course, Earani. You don’t think ——” He broke off as a sudden suspicion crossed his mind.

“Melbourne. Yes; Melbourne, is that not where your Government is?” she asked, and then a slow smile came to her lips. “Yes, Alan, I do think. Indeed, I am almost sure that Dick is trying to make trouble. Well,” she went on after a pause, “we shall see. How far away is Melbourne?”

“About two hundred miles,” answered Dundas. “Still, Earani, I trust Dick. He would not act treacherously towards us.”

Earani shook her head. “He would not for his own gain, Alan, but Dick is troubled by a conscience, and I fear that conscience will make him forget his friendship to you and his promise to me, too.”

“You will not harm him, dearest?” pleaded Dundas with a note of alarm in his voice.

She smiled before answering “He was warned, Alan, but unless he has committed himself too far, or has placed himself beyond pardon, he may escape the punishment he deserves, but we will see. We cannot risk interference during the next day or two. Take the lever again.”

Dundas obeyed, and once more the flickering light and shade played across the disc, and presently Dundas caught fleeting glimpses of familiar landmarks in the great city. One moment he saw, as if from a great height the granite spans of Prince’s Bridge with the vista of gardens in the background. Then, for a second, the dome of the Law Courts swung into view. Then a moment later came across the screen the stately facade of the Federal Houses of Parliament, with their flight of steps. Here the image on the disc paused for a minute and then blurred again. Then Dundas, with a catch in his breath, heard Earani’s voice. “Alan, we are close to him now. Remember, not a sound. He could hear the lightest whisper when his figure appears in the reflector.”

Dundas nerved himself for he knew not what. Some instinct told him he was standing on the verge of a tragedy. He felt a warning pressure on his hand, and then, in a moment, the mirror cleared. Even prepared as he was, had not Earani’s hand, now free from the levers, closed swiftly over his lips, a cry must have broken from him at the revelation before them.

Clearly on the disc showed the interior of a large room, with two men seated at a table. One of these was Barry, and the other, although Dundas had never seen him, he knew to be Sir Miles Glover, and, as if nothing were wanting to complete the damning picture, on the table between them, in a glorious fiery mass, lay the great diamond belt that Earani had given to Barry.

Even as the picture flashed up, Barry turned and looked nervously round as if some sound had startled him. They saw the anxious, worried lines of his face quite clearly, before he turned away, for he sat with his back to them, facing the Prime Minister. Then his voice came so naturally and distinctly, that again only the restraining hand of Earani prevented Dundas from startling the two reflected figures.

“I must ask you to overlook my nervousness, Sir Miles, but if you knew as much about Earani as I do you would know I have cause for it. I cannot guess the extent of her powers or her resources, and if she knew I had betrayed her, for it is a betrayal, well, I don’t think I would have long to live.”

Then came the clear, incisive voice of Sir Miles. “No need to apologise, Dr. Barry. You have told me enough to make me feel that my position would be no more secure than your own.”

“I blame myself for that, Sir Miles,” answered Barry, “but, as you know, my position became intolerable. You were my last hope.”

The grim face across the table relaxed into a slight smile. “I came in with my eyes wide open, doctor, and if we are both on rather thin ice, well, it’s a duty neither of us dare shirk. Still, I hope your fears of that lady’s activities are exaggerated. If not, well, it can’t be helped. One thing we must do at all costs, and that is, we must stop those two from leaving the country. No question of life or death — ours or theirs — can stand in the way of that.” Alan’s eyes turned to Earani, and she saw the strain of anxiety in them, and with a swift and silent movement of her hand the mirror dulled and cleared.

For a moment after the strain, it seemed almost unreal to Alan to find himself standing in the gallery alone with Earani. It was when he looked into her eyes again that fear came into his heart. For the first time since he had known her he saw a look of anger in her face. Regally, splendidly lovely, she faced him. “You heard, Alan? Treachery — a betrayal — he acknowledged it. He plots with that other for our very lives.”

His hand caught hers eagerly. “Beloved, oh beloved! I know he is guilty, but he is my friend. You will spare him. You will, Earani, for me. You will spare him,” for he saw death in those glorious angry eyes, and even as he spoke and she looked back at him, the glance softened, and she sighed. Then a soft smile came to the adorable lips, and she shook her head. “Oh, Alan, Alan. It is not right to plead to me like that, but I will show you I am not merciless. Though he has earned his death I will spare him.” Then her soft bell-like laughter rippled through the gallery as he caught her passionately in his arms. “But, Alan, beloved, I will not promise that he shall escape altogether. I will give our Dick a lesson; yes, a lesson he will remember. He will know that it will not be good to interfere in the future.”

Presently she freed herself from the arms that encircled her. “But Alan, I have no time to lose. I must catch those two together, and I must move swiftly. Leave me now, and go to your home and wait for me. I will be away perhaps for a few hours.”

Dundas pressed her hand to his lips before he turned away “I am content, dear heart, I will be waiting for you and counting every moment until you are with me again.”



Source:
Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 368-381

[Editor: Changed “some purpose of other” to “some purpose or other”. Replaced the question mark after “could penetrate” with a full stop.]

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