Next morning Alan Dundas returned to his work with an interest he had never known before.
When he had stopped the night before, he had uncovered about two square yards of the obstacle that had broken first his pick and then his cold chisel. In colour it was a dull red, not unlike red granite, but without a trace of “grain.” The surface was as smooth as glass, but it was the indication of a symmetrical shape that puzzled Dundas most. Where he had cut away the clay low down in the hole the rock sprang perpendicularly from the ground for about two feet, then from a clean, perfectly defined line it came away to form a dome. Of that he could make no mistake. Running his eye over the uncovered space, he estimated roughly that, supposing the lines continued as they appeared, he had unearthed the edge of a cylindrical construction, terminated by an almost flat dome, of some twenty-five to thirty feet in diameter. How far down the foundations might go he could not even hazard a guess.
So, filled with curiosity, he set to work, and as the hours passed the original idea of tank-sinking fled, and he worked solely to solve the mystery he had unearthed. The course he had to follow took his trench across the boundary he had first marked out, but as he worked surmise became fact. The boast he had made the day before was forgotten, and he ate his midday meal standing in his kitchen, and washed it down with a drink from his water-bag. By evening he surveyed the results of his day’s work, the most perplexed man in Christendom. To follow the course of what, for want of a better name, he called the rock, he had cut around the segment of a circle of about the size of his original estimate for about twenty feet. He had made his cut about three feet wide and shoulder deep, and all round he had found the clean cut line of the spring of the flat dome as clearly defined as if it had been moulded, and every inch he had uncovered strengthened his first idea that the work was from human hands.
So far as he had examined it he was absolutely at a loss to account for its purpose. It was like nothing he had ever seen or heard of, and moreover again and again came back the certainty that the surface of the soil had been hitherto unbroken.
For a while he considered whether he should catch Billy Blue Blazes and drive into Glen Cairn to talk the matter over with Bryce, but the mystery had eaten into his soul, and in the end he determined at all costs to solve it for himself. When he had arrived at this resolution he felt a keen satisfaction in the thought that his place was so far removed from the beaten track.
It was not until late in the afternoon of the following day when the strain of the past few days was beginning to tell on his energy, that he came on the first break in the wall, and it so far revived his spirits that he redoubled his efforts until he had assured himself that the break he had come upon was the top of an arched doorway. There could be no possible doubt of that, and when he had satisfied himself on the point he set to work, tired and aching as he was, to fill in enough earth all round his trench to hide as far as possible all indications of the construction. He felt certain that the solution of the problem would come from within, and he left only enough uncovered to enable him to have easy access to the newly discovered doorway.
Eight hours of dreamless sleep banished every ache. The morning was yet very young when Alan swung his dogcart into the main street of Glen Cairn, and Billy stopped, with his forefeet in the air, before the principal store in the town. There Dundas gave orders for timber and galvanised iron. Would it be out that day? And swag-bellied Gaynor, the storekeeper, swore that Mr. Dundas’s order would take precedence over all other in the matter of delivery.
Then it struck him that by driving a few miles off his homeward track he might see someone more interesting — that is, by accident.
Man proposes. Alan drove home by the long way. He irritated Billy by pulling him into as slow a pace as that bundle of nerves and springs ever assented to, but neither down the long hedged lane, nor in the curving oak-arched drive, nor yet about the white house half buried in the trees, was there any flutter of skirt or sign of her whom he sought. He was not good at fibbing, and, trying his best, he could not invent a reasonably passable excuse for a call.
And so home, all the time turning things over in his mind, till Marian Seymour first receded to the background of his thoughts and then disappeared altogether, and It took her place. “It.” After days of racking toil he could find no other name for his discovery than “It.” At times there flashed across his mind that there might be some simple and rational explanation for “It,” and with the thought came a sense of disappointment and depression. The feeling soon vanished, however, under analysis. Every sense of his being told him that he stood on the verge of the unknown.
When he reached “Cootamundra” he attended to Billy’s requirements, and then sought means to pass the time until the arrival of his material from Glen Cairn.
Unconsciously his feet carried him back to the excavation, and he smiled grimly at its appearance. Its original symmetrical shape had vanished. Its apparently objectless outlines and the patent fact that it had been partially refilled, made it look as an effort at tank sinking about as mad as some of his theories.
Although he was itching to recommence his explorations, he had to possess his soul in patience, and it was long after noon before Gaynor’s team arrived bearing the material he had ordered. Alan had the cart unloaded well away from the scene of his labours. He was taking no risks, although he felt sure that the driver’s one idea would be to make his delivery and get away.
It was no light task that he had set himself. To make up for his enforced idleness of the morning he worked until the fading light made it impossible for him to continue. He had to admit to himself that as architecture the framework he had erected was beneath contempt, while a carpenter’s apprentice would have snorted at his workmanship; but if it lacked all else it had strength, and would serve its purpose.
Next morning saw him working with beaver-like persistence.
But, in spite of damaged and blistered hands and raw-edged temper, the work advanced. When evening came his persistence was rewarded by an almost completed enclosure ten feet high, surrounding the spot where he had been excavating. Raw it looked, and a blot on the not too beautiful landscape, but he felt that it would serve his purpose. Another day would see it roofed and completed, and then not even the most curious visitor, known or unknown, would have sufficient curiosity to investigate what was to all appearances, nothing but a shed for storing implements or fodder.
Alan felt at the day’s end that Sunday’s rest, if nothing else, was a justification for Christianity. When he finally put away his tools and tramped wearily to the empty house, he told himself that until Monday morning he would empty his head of every thought of work.
Erle Cox, Out of the Silence, Melbourne: Robertson and Mullens, 1947 (first published 1925), pages 40-44