Chapter 31 [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 XXXI

That night Barry had driven down to Ronga, and left his car at an hotel, giving himself bare time to catch the night mail for Melbourne. Although he had a compartment to himself, he made no attempt to sleep, but passed the long hours in settling in his mind the story he was to tell the Prime Minister. He knew he must marshal his main points in proper order, for his auditor would be the most critical and the most difficult man to satisfy in Australia. By the time in the early morning, however, that the train rolled slowly into Spencer Street station he had satisfied himself, and felt fully armed for the coming interview.

He had brought with him only a rug and a small handbag, and with these he crossed from the station to Carlyon’s, and procured a bedroom. He explained that he had been awake all night, and went immediately to his room, and, after leaving word that he was to be called punctually at midday, he turned in, and in spite of his anxiety slept soundly until a hammering at his door warned him that it was nearly time for action.

He took a hot bath and dressed himself at his leisure, and by the time he had finished his luncheon it was twenty minutes to two. Then, bag in hand, he strolled out into Bourke Street and entered a tram at the terminus. Not one of the dozen passengers took more than a casual glance at the quietly dressed figure in the corner, and Barry, looking round, smiled quietly to himself at the thought of what effect a full knowledge of his mission might have on them. How would the stout well-dressed citizen opposite him look had he been aware that in the bag resting on the seat beside Barry were jewels to the value of half a million or more? Scarce one of the thronging thousands in the street as that tram went through even glanced at it, though, unknown to them, it was bearing the fate of the world.

By five minutes to two Barry had climbed the long flight of steps before the Federal House, and entered the building with the secretary’s telegram in his hand as a passport. Although outwardly cool, his heart was moving faster than usual, and at the head of the steps he looked back nervously. He had tried to reassure himself that his fears were groundless, but over and over again came the thought of Earani. He had no illusions as to her views of his action should he be detected, and very little doubt as to his fate. He made no attempt to excuse himself for the course he was taking. That he was violating a solemn promise he did not attempt to disguise from himself. Even at the last moment, while he waited the coming of the secretary, when he might still have withdrawn, no thought of weakening in his purpose entered his mind.

Then the secretary came forward. “Doctor Barry?” he asked, abruptly. Dick nodded. “Sir Miles is waiting. This way, please,” and a moment later he stood in the presence of the Prime Minister.

Each man turned an inquisitive glance on the other, and Sir Miles waved his hand in the direction of the chair on the opposite side of the broad table at which he was seated. Dick took the seat indicated. The face before him was almost as familiar to him as his own, though he had never before seen the man himself. Not a week passed without some illustrated paper picturing the keen, clear-cut features and cold, almost ascetic face of the man who, practically single-handed, ruled the Commonwealth. After the first glance Barry’s nervousness dropped from him, and the feeling took its place that here at last was the one man who had the brain to meet the problem that he had found insoluble. It was Sir Miles who spoke first.

“Doctor Barry, I am a very busy man, and it is not usual for me to grant an interview of this kind. All I ask of you is that you will not take up more of my time than is necessary.” He spoke in a clear, incisive voice, but there was a note of encouragement in his words.

Barry met the keen eyes steadily. “Sir Miles,” he answered, “before I can touch on my mission I must warn you that by sharing with me the knowledge of the matter I wish to put before you, you place yourself in grave personal danger. I cannot assume the responsibility of going further unless that point is perfectly clear to you.”

For a moment the grey eyes seemed to bore into Barry’s soul, then a shadow of a smile came to the corners of the wide mobile lips. “You have taken the right course to make me listen, Doctor Barry. I’ll share the risk with you, whatever it may be.”

“It is a very real risk, as I am afraid you will find before very long,” said Barry seriously. “However, I will get down to business at once, but before I start I want you to hear me out. I will tell my story in the fewest possible words, and however incredible it may seem, I promise to back every word of it by tangible and incontrovertible proof.”

“Very good. I promise not to interrupt,” said Sir Miles with an inclination of his head.

Then Barry started his story. On his journey to Melbourne he had put it into shape, and in clear, brief sentences he told Sir Miles of his knowledge of Earani from the first day that Dundas had called in his aid until the last meeting he had had with Alan at the hospital. While he spoke the keen eyes scanned his face. At first there came into them an expression of cynical amusement, and once or twice Sir Miles seemed about to interrupt. Gradually the look of interest deepened. Barry knew that he was telling his story to the keenest and most deadly cross-examiner at the Australian bar. He knew that the listener had built up a great reputation by his faultless judgment of men’s motives, and he took heart as he saw the incredulous expression in the questioning eyes give way first to interest and then to concentrated attention. “And so,” wound up Barry, in conclusion, “I felt I could bear the responsibility no longer. I feel now that I should have spoken long ago. I have gained the wisdom that comes after the event, and I pray that it is not too late even now to prevent a terrible catastrophe.”

As he ceased speaking, Sir Miles sat with his long white hands clasped on the edge of the table, and, with knit brows and tight-lipped mouth, stared straight before him for a long minute. Then with an abrupt toss of his head he came to life, and his voice as he spoke took on a note that had broken down many a carefully thought-out lying story. “Doctor Barry, if a man came to you with such a story, and asked you to accept it and to act on it, what would be your first request?”

“Some tangible proof,” answered Barry bluntly.

“Exactly; some tangible proof,” repeated Sir Miles, with lifted brows.

For answer Barry took his bag from the floor beside his chair and opened it. “This,” he said, “was given to me by Earani as a present for my wife,” and as he spoke he tossed the great diamond belt on to the table, where it lay in a heap of multi-coloured fire that filled the whole room with its flashing splendour. Now Sir Miles, the cold and immovable, unknown to all but a few intimate friends, had stored away at the back of his sphinx-like calm an intense love of the beautiful. His collection of rare and splendid gems was his only hobby, and it was woe to the dealer who tried to impose on his judgment.

For the moment he regarded the blazing mass of light before him with incredulous eyes. Then slowly he drew it towards him and passed it link by link through his fingers, studying each stone and its setting from a dozen angles. For ten minutes he sat in silence, never lifting his eyes from the flaring wonder in his hands. Then at last he spread it at full length on the table before him, and looked up at Barry. “Have you any conception of the value of this?” he asked, with a whimsical smile.

Dick shook his head. “The stones are real, though she said they were manufactured as an experiment.”

Sir Miles gave a sigh, and looking down at the shining mass said, “Well, manufactured or not, if we only possessed its value I should not worry any further over the deficit for the past financial year.” Then he went on abruptly. “However, this,” and he touched the belt lightly with his finger, “carries conviction if I am not dreaming. If I accept this as a reality I must accept your story.”

“It is the merest trifle compared with what I could show you, provided I ever have the opportunity,” Barry added the last words with shrug of his shoulders.

Sir Miles looked at him with knit brows. “But, my dear sir, there would be no chance of this woman knowing of your visit to me. Are you not worrying yourself unnecessarily?”

“Tell me,” asked Barry in return. “You accept my statement of the case?”

The Prime Minister’s head bent slightly. “Doctor Barry, strange to say, I do; though,” he went on, after a pause, “it is as well, perhaps, that some of my colleagues did not hear me make the admission.”

“Well,” continued Barry, “it would be serving you a very ill turn if I allowed you to under-estimate Earani. Some of her powers I do know. There are others I an only guess at vaguely. But this I do assure you, that I feel certain that she would be able to discover my whereabouts and put her hand on me here as easily as if I were in Glen Cairn.”

There was a long silence while Sir Miles sat weighing Harry’s words. Through the open window came the faint clang of tram-bells, and the hum of traffic outside seemed to accentuate the stillness of the room. Then Sir Miles spoke. “Quite an interesting programme, doctor. The total destruction of the coloured races in the world, and an absolute domination of the remaining white population by two people — one, most likely, if that precious gentleman in the Himalayas is let loose.”

“That is the way I read it,” answered Barry. “I’ve no doubt that Earani will become subservient to Andax, and then God help the world.”

“How long do you think it will be before your friend Dundas and Earani will attempt to leave?”

“Not more than a day or two now, at the outside,” answered Barry. “I believe if we can do anything it must be done within a few hours.”

“What of Dundas?” was the next question. “Could we use him?”

Barry shook his head. “No hope. He is absolutely infatuated. If you saw her you would understand.” He turned and looked nervously round as he spoke, and then, seeing the look in Sir Miles’ eyes, he laughed shortly. “She might be in the room now, for all we know.”

Again the Prime Minister thought deeply. “Then,” he said presently, “to me it appears that force, or an attempt at force, would be hopeless. I mean civil or military force. Diplomacy is the only weapon left.”

Barry nodded. “Any force brought against her would only mean useless bloodshed. Of that I am certain.”

“And diplomacy?” Sir Miles queried. “You know it rests now between us.”

“Our only chance, and a slender one. Remember, Earani believes that her mission in the world is sacred. What possible argument do you think we could bring forward to alter her ideas?”

The Prime Minister stared fixedly at the flashing jewels before him. Then he looked up at Barry before speaking. “Doctor Barry, suppose we knew a foreign Power to be on the point of launching a resistless attack on this country without a declaration of war. Suppose, again, we knew that by taking one life we could prevent that war and so save the lives of hundreds of thousands.” He stopped and looked at Barry inquiringly.

“Justification?” Dick asked.

Sir Miles nodded. “Ample, in my mind — provided of course, that the case stands as you put it, and I have no doubt that it does.”

Barry thought for a moment. “It’s revolting, but I can see no other way. If it can be done ——” He broke off for a moment. “It will mean Dundas, too. He would not live if he lost her.”

Sir Miles drew open a drawer in his table and produced a heavy revolver, and looked at it carefully. “If anyone had told me this morning that I would be seriously considering an assassination this afternoon as a matter of policy, I’d ——”

Barry broke in. “Listen, Sir Miles. You have shown me the way — the only way. For two of us to be involved in it would be folly. Leave the rest to me.”

Sir Miles looked up with a smile. “No, doctor; we stand or fall together.”

Barry answered calmly. “You must leave it to me. Consider the position. In the first place, if I brought you to ‘Cootamundra’ your very presence would arouse suspicion. Then again, if we fail, it would mean the death of both, and your life is too valuable to be thrown away like that. On the other hand, should I succeed, you will be alive, and in authority here to protect, me, in a measure at any rate, from the legal consequences of my act. No, Sir Miles, my course is clear. You must leave the work to me.”

The Prime Minister sat back in his chair, with his chin on his chest and his fingers on the edge of his table, in great perplexity. There was a short, gasping breath from Barry, and a whispered “My God!” And Sir Miles came back to himself with a start, and looked up. Midway between the table and the window stood the tall, cloaked figure of a woman. Not without justice had his enemies named Miles Glover “Cold Steel.” Even at that moment Barry could not but feel a thrill of admiration at his splendid self-possession. Had such an occurrence been an hourly detail with him he could not have shown himself less moved. Not a line in his strong, clear-cut face altered. There was no trace of nervousness or anxiety visible as he sat watching the motionless figure of the woman. Earani was cloaked heavily from head to foot, and her face, hidden by its hood, was in the deepest shadow; but not even the shadow could hide the light in her eyes, and it was a light that boded ill for those that kindled it. There were a few moments’ tense silence, during which Sir Miles Glover’s hand fell lightly on the butt of the revolver that lay on the table before him.

Then Earani glided slowly forward and stood beside the table. From the first moment her eyes had never left those of Sir Miles. Barry she disregarded utterly. Bending forward slightly, she spoke, and her clear voice scarcely rose above a whisper. “Give me that weapon.” The strong hand of the man seemed to close more firmly on it, but he made no other motion. There was a pause, and Earani bent closer. “Give me that weapon.” Her voice did not alter, but there was a deadly intensity in her words. Barry watched, fascinated. It seemed as if the two were engaged in a mighty struggle. The Prime Minister’s face set in tense lines, and his eyes met those of Earani undaunted. Once, twice, Barry saw the fingers close on the trigger, then the hand relaxed slightly. For the third time the clear, relentless voice cut in, “Give me that weapon.” Sir Miles seemed struggling to speak, or to throw off the spell of those pitiless eyes that bound him. Barry saw that his forehead was damp, and that his breath came faster. Then, as if he had broken under an intolerable strain, his whole body seemed to relax suddenly, and with a hand that trembled he lifted the revolver by its barrel and held it towards Earani. Without moving her eyes from his for a moment, she took the weapon from his hand and tossed it from her across the room, where it clattered into a corner.

Then she stood erect again, and Sir Miles heaved a great sigh as of a swimmer who draws his first breath after a prolonged dive. Then, for the first time, she seemed aware of Barry’s existence. He rose slowly to his feet and faced her; at least he thought she would not see him falter, whatever his fate might be. She spoke slowly and clearly: “You are alive now, and will live, not by any weakness or compassion of mine, but because the friend you would have betrayed has asked for your life. Otherwise you would have died an hour ago. Stand there.” Her white hand pointed to the spot where she had first appeared, “and if you move, move but one inch, your life is finished.” Barry backed slowly to the spot indicated and stood still. For a moment she regarded him with cold, contemptuous eyes, then turned back to Sir Miles, who had watched the scene breathless.

With a sweep of her hand she tossed the hood back from her face to her shoulders, and then sank into the chair Barry had left. As she did so, all trace of anger seemed to pass from her face, and there was a faint smile on her lips as she turned her grave grey eyes slowly to those of the Prime Minister, who had by this time entirely recovered his self-possession, and met her look without faltering.

“I think,” she said coolly, “I can forgive almost any offence except treachery.” Then, abruptly, “What is your name?”

“My friends,” answered the statesman quietly, “call me Miles Glover.”

“And your enemies?” There was no heat or malice in the soft inquiring voice.

Sir Miles shrugged his shoulders. “I am not interested in what my enemies call me,” he said. “Why ask?”

She waved her hand in the direction the revolver had taken. “Was it a friend that plotted to kill me?”

Then Barry saw Miles Glover at his best. Where a smaller man might have tried to temporise or equivocate, his answer came unhesitatingly. “There is not enough room in the world for you and me, Earani.”

Earani’s soft liquid laugh filled the room, and there came a look of admiration in her eyes. “Ah! that is well said, Miles Glover. I thought you would have lied. And so you would have killed me, and yet ——” She spoke more to herself than to him. “And yet you are not a fool. What has Dr. Barry told you?”

“Enough for me to realise that for the world’s sake you are better out of it than in it,” he said bluntly.

“I said you were not a fool; but does a wise man do well to take the word of a fool for wisdom? Is there no more than one side to a question?”

“Scarcely more than one to this question.”

“Why?”

“Tell me, is Dr. Barry right when he says that you have the means, and intend to use them, of destroying the coloured races of the world?” asked Sir Miles.

Earani answered without hesitation. “That is right, inasmuch as I intend to eliminate all that is unfit in the world.”

“And,” went on Sir Miles, “is he right when he says that you have the means, and will use them, of imposing your will and your own ideas of civilisation on the world?”

“That is my mission,” she answered quietly, “and I regard it as a sacred mission.”

“Then, that being the case, I repeat there is no more than one side of the question, and there is not room in the world for both of us.”

Earani laughed softly. “Even tenacity of purpose can be overdone, Miles Glover. If one of us must leave the world, I will not be that one.”

He placed his finger on the button on the table beside him. “What is there to prevent my having you placed under restraint?”

Again she laughed softly. “That would be a solution of your problem. The first person to enter this room would find two dead men, and nothing to show how they died. Come, we are not children, you and I. You had one chance, and you lost.”

The hand fell back from the bell, and he looked at her keenly and thoughtfully. Earani spoke again as if in answering the unspoken thought. “No, Miles Glover; there is no way out that you can find. Surrender, and become an ally instead of an enemy.”

“Never!” The terse answer came like the snap of a whip.

“Why?” she asked smoothly.

“Because as the head of the Government of this country I intend to uphold its laws. Apart from your hellish intentions of slaughter, your very existence threatens the destruction of all established order and authority. To parley with you for a moment would be treason.”

“You cannot bring yourself to look at the question from my side?” she asked quietly.

“It would be unthinkable,” he answered shortly.

“Listen, Miles Glover, and answer me this question. If it were possible for one human being to take the world, and at one stroke wipe out your progress for the past thousand years, and leave your civilisation where it stood when the Roman Empire had fallen, what would you do to prevent it? Would you kill that man as you meant to kill me?”

“There would as much justification in either case,” he answered shortly.

“So! Now wait — I tell you this. What I can give your world, what I will give your world, will be immeasurably greater than what the world has won for itself during the past thousand years. Would that not be worth while?”

Sir Miles laughed shortly. “It has taken a thousand terrible years to win, so far. You would crush the experiences of those years into a century. The world would die of mental and moral indigestion. Your meat would be too strong for us.”

Earani nodded comprehendingly. “It would be as you say, unless the medicine were administered scientifically, as it will be.”

Sir Miles sighed deeply. “I believe you have powers that will make you almost omnipotent amongst us. Before you use them, stay your hand a while. Live amongst us. Learn our thoughts and our ideas. Study the forces that are moving us. Understand us a little more. Afterwards you may come to thank me for pleading for time. You may come to know that in waiting you have been saved from doing an incalculable wrong.” He spoke with intense earnestness.

Earani stood up and let her cloak slip from her shoulders. Then she moved a little way from the table and stood looking down at him. “Look at me, Miles Glover,” she said quietly. “Tell me, have you ever seen a human being such as I am?” There was no trace of coquetry or vanity in word or action, and the man knew it as he looked at her, standing proudly erect before him.

He paused a moment before answering, and then nodded his head. “I did not think it were possible that humanity could be brought to such perfection.” He spoke with simple sincerity. “But what does it prove?”

Earani stepped back to her chair and faced him again. “It proves this, that humanity can be made as I am. This world of yours is full of pain and misery. Is any price too great to pay to cure it? Is any price too great that buys a perfect and wholesome humanity? A humanity that is morally and physically free from infirmity? I tell you, Miles Glover, that I can and will carry out the trust that has been laid upon me. There is no power on earth that can stand in my way and escape destruction. You cannot even dream of the forces you would try to combat. You hold that to carry out my mission would be a crime. I hold that to fail in doing so would be a crime, and,” she finished with grim earnestness, “my voice and my authority in this are final.”

Sir Miles listened with bowed head to the relentless voice that he felt had passed sentence on the world. What he had heard from Barry gave him some idea of what Earani stood for in the world’s future, but now, in the few minutes she had faced him, she herself had intensified a hundredfold his feeling of dismay at the prospect of her undisputed rule. It was not so much in what she had said as in the indescribable sense of power that surrounded her. He had felt the effect of the mighty will that had left him crushed and broken. He felt as she spoke that her words were no empty boast, and what she said she could do, she most surely would do if she wished. So it was with a feeling of hopelessness he spoke again.

“Supposing you are right,” he said, looking up at her. “Allowing you can do all that you say. Even then you cannot act alone. With all your powers you must have help. Even this Andax that I hear of, and you, together, will want the advice and support of others. You must have those experienced in the ways of our world to help and guide you.”

Earani nodded. “So now that you know that and understand it, we can talk on better terms. We must have men to help, and those must be the best of your race. That is why I said, ‘Be our ally.’”

“And I answered before,” said Sir Miles emphatically, “I would not.”

She looked across at him and smiled. “That was because you thought that we were devils, when in reality we will be the world’s greatest benefactors. Tell me, you who know this world and its men so well, would not it be better for you and for the world if you were on our side to help us with your knowledge and experience?”

For the first time a ray of hope came to Sir Miles. Perhaps here was a chance. If he could not avert the catastrophe he might at least lessen its force. “Would you accept my advice or trust me after to-day?” he asked.

“Why not,” she answered. “Would I blame you because that fool,” she nodded towards Barry, “misled you. Miles Glover, what power have you here now that is not hampered at every turn by men who are unfit to stand beneath the same sky with you? Is it not that again and again your best plans for the good of this people have been wrecked to gratify the vanity or private ambition of some of your co-workers? I know that it is so. What could you not do with this country if you could rule it for its own good, and give it the best that is in you? Give it unselfishly as you have always done.”

He looked up at her bright-eyed. “What you say is impossible.”

For answer, Earani stood up and moved round the table to his side. He looked up at her wondering as she stood over him, with her eyes intently on his face. “How old are you, Miles Glover?” she asked quietly.

“Just fifty-two,” he answered, smiling.

She placed her hand on his forehead, and bending his head back slightly, she looked intently into his eyes. “Fifty-two,” she repeated, “and you have always treated this body of yours fairly, my friend, I should judge.” She paused, and went on: “Fifty-two — well, I can give you another fifty, perhaps sixty years, of useful, vigorous life.” She stepped back a few paces. “That offer is not merely empty words; I can and will make it come true if you wish.” She paused for a moment. “Think, fifty years of absolute power, backed and guided by ten thousand years of experience, and this people of yours to work for. To lay the foundation of a work that will knit them into a perfect humanity; a race that will eventually become without blemish, morally or physically. My friend, would such a work be the work of the fiends you would have us appear?”

Miles Glover looked at her with a new light in his eyes. “Tell me,” he asked, “if I promise my help, would you leave this country to my guidance?”

She bent her head. “Absolutely. You will have it, subject to no other restrictions than the rules we will give you, and you will use your own discretion in enforcing them.”

“And if I accept,” he asked, “what will you do now?”

“For the time being I must leave here. There is other work to be done, but until I am ready you must forget you have even heard of me.”

“Forget?” he said in amazement.

“Until I wish you to remember,” she answered, smiling.

Sir Miles sat in silence, thinking deeply. Then Earani spoke again. “My friend, there are but two paths to choose between. The one will lead you to power such as you have never dreamed of. The other — well, you must see for yourself that I can leave no strong enemies in my path.”

He looked up at her calmly. “Is that a threat?”

She smiled back at him. “It is merely a statement of the case. I would far rather have you with me than remove you, as I must otherwise. You know too much now. I can take no risks.”

“It makes no difference,” he said quietly. “I had already made up my mind to accept.”

“And you will never regret your decision, Miles Glover,” she answered. “And now to forget until I am ready for your help.”

“How forget? Could I ever forget?” he asked.

“You will,” she said, stepping closer to him. “Look up at me. So. Now your hand.” She took his outstretched hand in hers and bent over him. Then she commenced to speak softly in her own tongue, and as she spoke the light faded from his eyes, and his head sank forward slowly. Presently she ceased speaking, and stood looking down upon him. A moment later, and his face rested on his arm that lay outstretched on the table, and Miles Glover had forgotten.

Earani watched the unconscious figure for a few moments. Then she stooped forward and picked up the great jewelled belt that lay on the table, and clasped it about her waist. Only then did she turn towards Barry, who had watched the scene throughout with despair in his heart.

She walked up to him and looked at him reflectively. “I do not think I am wise to let you live, Richard Barry, but because it is Alan’s wish I hold my hand. I will not even seal your lips as I have sealed his” — she nodded towards the table — “but this I do promise you. If now or at any other time you make one move against me, aye, or even think of one, then the punishment I have withheld to-day will overtake you.” She walked towards the window and turned again. “It is my order that you return to your home tonight. You understand?”

“Yes,” was the sullen answer; “I understand, Earani. I have failed.”

“Go now,” she said, “but remember, you are watched.”

Barry took his bag from the table and turned towards her again, but Earani had vanished. With a shrug of his shoulders he paused for a moment to glance at the quiet form at the table, and then, heavy at heart, he left the room.



Source:
Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925),
pages 382-401

[Editor: The phrase “an hotel” is as used in the original text, although the modern phraseology is “a hotel”.]

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