The Lost Continent, by Cutcliffe Hyne, , at sacred-texts.com
NOW from where we stood together, just below the crest of the Sacred Mountain, we could see down into the city, which lay spread out below us like a map. The harbor and the great estuary gleamed at its farther side, and the fringe of hills beyond smoked and fumed in their accustomed fashion; the great stone circle of our Lord the Sun stood up grim and bare in the middle of the city, and nearer in reared up the great mass of the royal pyramid, the gold on its sides catching new gold from the Sun. There, too, in the square before the pyramid stood the throne of granite, dwarfed by the distance to the size of a mole's hill, in which these nine years my love had lain sleeping.
Old Zaemon followed my gaze. "Aye," he said, with a sigh, "I know where your chief interest is. Deucalion when he landed here new from Yucatan was a strong man. The King whom we have chosen—and who is the best we have to choose—has his weakness."
"It can be turned into additional strength. Give me Naïs here, living and warm to fight for, and I am a stronger man by far than the cold viceroy and soldier that you speak about."
"I have passed my word to that already, and you shall have her, but at the cost of damaging somewhat this new kingdom of yours. Maybe, too, at the same time we shall rid you of this Phorenice and her brood. But I do not think it likely. She is too wily, and, once we begin our play, she is likely to guess whence it comes and how it will end, and so will make an escape before harm can reach her. The High Gods, who have sent all these trials for our refinement, have seen fit to give her some knowledge of how these earth tremors may be set a-moving."
"I have seen her juggle with them. But may I hear your scheme?"
"It will be shown you in good time enough. But for the present I would bid you sleep. It will be your part to go into the city to-night, and take your woman (that is my daughter) when she is set free, and bring her here as best you can. And for that you will need all a strong man's strength." He stepped back and looked me up and down. "There are not many folk that would take you for the tidy, clean-chinned Deucalion now, my brother. Your appearance will be a fine armor for you down yonder in the city to-night when we wake it with our earthshaking and terror. As you stand now, you are hairy enough and shaggy enough and naked enough and dirty enough for some wild savage new landed out of Europe. Have a care that no fine citizen down yonder takes a fancy to your thews and seizes upon you as his servant."
"I somewhat pity him in his household if he does."
Old Zaemon laughed. "Why, come to think of it, so do I."
But quickly he got grave again. Laughter and Zaemon were very rare playmates. "Well, get you to bed, my King, and leave me to go into the Ark of Mysteries and prepare there with another of the Three the things that must be done. It is no light business to handle the tremendous powers which we must put into movement this night. And there is danger for us as there is for you. So if by chance we do not meet again till we stand up yonder behind the stars, giving account to the Gods, fare you well, Deucalion."
I slept that day as a soldier sleeps, taking full rest out of the hours, and letting no harassing thought disturb me. It is only the weak who permit their sleep to be broken on these occasions. And when the dark was well set, I roused and fetched those who should attend to the rope. Our Lady the Moon did not shine at that turn of the month, and the air was full of a great blackness. So I was out of sight all the while they lowered me.
I reached the tumbled rocks that lay at the deep foot of the cliff, and then commenced to use a nice caution, because Phorenice's soldiers squatted uneasily round their camp-fires, as though they had forebodings of the coming evil. I had no mind to further stir their wakefulness. So I crept swiftly along in the darkest of the shadows, and at last came to the spot where that passage ends which before I had used to get beneath the walls of the city.
The lamp was in place, and I made my way along
the windings swiftly. The air, so it seemed to me, was even more noxious with vapors than it had been when I was down there before, and I judged that Zaemon had already begun to stir those internal activities which were shortly to convulse the city. But again I had difficulty in finding an exit, and this, not because there were people moving about at the places where I had to come out, but because the set of the masonry was entirely changed. In olden time the Priests’ Clan oversaw all the architects’ plans, and ruled out anything likely to clash with their secret passages and chambers. But in this modern day the priests were of small account, and had no say in this matter, and the architects often through sheer blundering sealed up and made useless many of these outlets and hiding-places.
As it was, then, I had to get out of the net-work of tunnels and galleries where I could, and not where I would, and in the event found myself at the farther side of the city, almost up to where the outer wall joins down to the harbor. I came out without being seen, careful even in this moment of extremity to preserve the ordinances, and closed all traces of exit behind me. The earth seemed to spring beneath my feet like the deck of a ship in smooth water; and though there was no actual movement as yet to disturb the people—and indeed these slept on in their houses and shelters without alarm—I could feel myself that the solid deadness of the ground was gone, and that any moment it might break out into devastating waves of movement.
Gods! Should I be too late to see the untombing
of my love? Would she be laid there bare to the public gaze when presently the people swarmed out into the open spaces through fear at what the great earth-tremor might cause to fall? I could see, in fancy, their rude, cruel hands thrust upon her as she lay there helpless, and my inwards dried up at the thought.
I ran madly down and down the narrow winding streets with the one thought of coming to the square which lay in front of the royal pyramid before these things came to pass. With exquisite cruelty I had been forced with my own hands to place her alive in her burying-place beneath the granite throne, and if thews and speed could do it, I would not miss my reward of taking her forth again with the same strong hands.
Few disturbed that furious hurry. At first here and there some wretch who harbored in the gutter cried: "A thief! Throw a share or I pursue!" But if any of these followed, I do not know. At any rate, my speed then must have outdistanced any one. Presently, too, as the swing of the earth underfoot became more keen, and the stone-work of the buildings by the street-side began to grate and groan and grit and send forth little showers of dust, people began to run with scared cries from out of their doors. But none of these had a mind to stop the ragged, shaggy, savage man who ran so swiftly past and flung the mud from his naked feet.
And so in time I came to the great square, and was there none too soon. The place was filling with people who flocked away from the narrow streets,
and it was full of darkness and noise and dust and sickness. Beneath us the ground rippled in undulations like a sea, which with terrifying slowness grew more and more intense.
Ever and again a house crashed down unseen in the gloom and added to the tumult. But the great pyramid had been planned by its old builders to stand rude shocks. Its stones were dovetailed into one another with a marvellous cleverness, and were further clamped and joined by ponderous tongues of metal. It was a boast that one-half the foundations could be dug from beneath it, and still the pyramid would stand four-square under heaven, more enduring than the hills.
Flickering torches showed that its great stone doors lay open, and ever and again I saw some frightened inmate scurry out and then be lost to sight in the gloom. But with the royal pyramid and its ultimate fate I had little concern; I did not even care then whether Phorenice was trapped, or whether she came out sound and fit for further mischief. I crouched by the granite throne which stood in the middle of that splendid square, and heard its stones grate together like the ends of a broken bone as it rocked to the earth-waves.
In that night of dust and darkness it was hard to see the outline of one's own hand, but I think that the Gods in some requital for the love which had ached so long within me, gave me especial power of sight. As I watched, I saw the great carved rock which formed the capstone of the throne move slightly, and then move again, and then again; a tiny jerk for each
earth-pulse, but still there was an appreciable shifting; and, moreover, the stone moved always to one side.
There was method in Zaemon's desperate work, and this in my blind panic of love and haste I had overlooked. So I went up the steps of the throne on the side from which the great capstone was moving, and clung there afire with expectation.
More and more violent did the earth-swing grow, though the gradations of its increase could not be perceived, and the din of falling houses and the shrieks and cries of hurt and frightened people went louder up into the night. Thicker grew the dust that filled the air, till one coughed and strangled in the breathing, and more black did the night become as the dust rose and blotted the rare stars from sight. I clung to an angle of the granite throne, crouching on the uppermost step but one below the capstone, and could scarcely keep my place against the violence of the earth-tremors.
But still the huge capstone that was carved with the snake and the outstretched hand held my love fast locked in her living tomb, and I could have bit the cold granite at the impotence which barred me from her. The people who kept thronging into the square were mad with terror, but their very numbers made my case more desperate every moment. "Phorenice, Goddess, aid us now!" some cried, and when the prayer did not bring them instant relief, they fell to yammering out the old confessions of the faith which they had learned in childhood, turning in this hour of their dreadful need to those old Gods which, through
so many dishonorable years, they had spurned and deserted. It was a curious criticism on the balance of their real religion, if one had cared to make it.
Louder grew the crash of falling masonry; and from the royal pyramid itself, though indeed I could not even see its outline through the darkness, there came sounds of grinding stones and cracking bars of metal which told that even its superb majestic strength had a breaking strain. There came to my mind the threat that old Zaemon had thundered forth in that painted, perfumed banqueting-hall: "You shall see," he had cried to the Empress, "this royal pyramid which you have polluted with your debaucheries torn tier from tier and stone from stone, and scattered as feathers spread before a wind!"
Still heavier grew the surging of the earth, and the pavement of the great square gaped and upheaved, and the people who thronged it screamed still more shrilly as their feet were crushed by the grinding blocks. And now too the great pyramid itself was commencing to split and gape and topple. The roofs of its splendid chambers gave way, and the ponderous masonry above shuttered down and filled them. In part, too, one could see the destruction now, and not guess at it merely from the fearful hearings of the darkness. Thunders had begun to roar through the black night above and add their bellowings to this devil's orchestration of uproar, and vivid lightning splashes lit the flying dust-clouds.
It was perhaps natural that she should be there, but it came as a shock when a flare of the lightning
showed me Phorenice safe out in the square, and indeed standing not far from myself.
She had taken her place in the middle of a great flagstone, and stood there swaying her supple body to the shocks. Her face was calm, and its loveliness was untouched by the years. From time to time she brushed away the dust as it settled on the short red hair which curled about her neck. There was no trace of fear written upon her face. There was some weariness, some contempt, and I think a tinge of amusement. Yes, it took more than the crumbling of her royal pyramid to impress Phorenice with the infinite powers of those she warred against.
Gods! how the sight of her cool indifference maddened me then. I had it in me to have strangled her with my hands if she had come within my reach. But as it was she stood in her place, swaying easily to the earth-waves as a sailor sways on a ship's deck, and beside her, crouched on the same great flagstone and overcome with nausea, was Ylga, that again was raised to be her fan-girl. It came to my mind that Ylga was twin sister to Naïs, and that I owed her for an ancient kindness, but I had leisure to do nothing for her then, and indeed it was little enough I could have done. With each shock the great capstone of the throne to which I clung jarred farther and farther from its bed-place, and my love was coming nearer to me. It was she who claimed all my service then.
Once in their blind panic a knot of the people in the square thought that the granite throne was too solid to be overturned, and saw in it an oasis of safety. They flocked towards it, many of them dragging
themselves up the steep deep high steps on hands and knees because their feet had been injured by the billowing flagstones of the square.
But I was in no mood to have the place profaned by their silly tremblings and stares: I beat at them with my hands, tearing them away, and hurling them back down the steepness of the steps. They asked me what was my title to the place above their own, and I answered them with blows and gnashing teeth. I was careless as to what they thought me or who they thought me. Only I wished them gone. And so they went, wailing, and crying that I was a devil of the night, for they had no spirit left to defend themselves.
Farther and farther the great stone that made the top of the throne slid out from its bed, but its slowness of movement maddened me. A life's education left me in that moment, and I had no trace of stately patience left. In my puny fury I thrust at the great block with my shoulder and head, and clawed at it with my hands till the muscles rose on me in great ropes and knots, and the High Gods must have laughed at my helplessness as They looked. All was being ordered by the Three, who were their trusted servants in their good time. The work of the Gods may be done slowly, but it is done exceeding sure.
But at last when all the people of the city were numb with terror and incapable of further emotion (save only for Phorenice, who still had nerve enough to show no concern), what had been threatened came to pass. The capstone of the throne slid out till it reached the balance, and the next shock threw it with
a roar and a clatter to the ground. And then a strange tremor seized me.
After all the scheming and effort, what I had so ardently prayed for had come about; but yet my inwards sank at the thought of mounting on the stone where I had mounted before, and taking my dear from the hollow where my hands had laid her. I knew Phorenice's vengefulness, and had a high value for her cleverness. Had she left Naïs to lie in peace, or had she stolen her away to suffer indignities elsewhere? Or had she ended her sleep with death, and (as a grisly jest) left the corpse for my finding? I could not tell; I dared not guess. Never during a whole hard-fighting life have my emotions been so wrenched as they were at that moment. And, for excuse, it must be owned that love for Naïs had sapped my hardihood over a matter in which she was so privately concerned.
It began to come to my mind, however, that the infernal uproar of the earth-tremor was beginning to slacken somewhat, as though Zaemon knew he had done the work that he had promised, and was minded to give the wretched city a breathing space. So I took my fortitude in hand and clambered up on to the flat of the stone. The lightning flashes had ceased, and all was darkness again and stifling dust, but at any moment the sky might be lit once more, and if I were seen in that place, shaggy and changed though I might be, Phorenice, if she were standing near, would not be slow to guess my name and errand.
So changed was I for the moment that I will finely confess that the idea of a fight was loathsome to me
then. I wanted to have my business done and get gone from the place.
With hands that shook I fumbled over the face of the stone and found the clamps and bars of metal still in position where I had clenched them, and then reverently I let my fingers pass between these, and felt the curves of my love's body in its rest beneath. An exultation began to whirl within me. I did not know if she had been touched since I last left her; I did not know if the drug would have its due effect, and let her be wakened to warmth and sight again; but, dead or alive, I had her there, and she was mine, mine, mine, and I could have yelled aloud in my joy at her possession.
Still the earth shook beneath us, and masonry roared and crashed into ruin. I had to cling to my place with one hand while I unhasped the clamps of metal that made the top of her prison with the other. But at last I swung the upper half of them clear, and those which pinned down her feet I let remain. I stooped and drew her soft body up on to the flat of the stone beside me, and pressed my lips a hundred times to the face I could not see.
Some mad thought took me, I believe, that the mere fierceness and heat of my kisses would bring her back again to life and wakefulness. Indeed, I will own plainly that I did but sorry credit to my training in calmness that night. But she lay in my arms cold and nerveless as a corpse, and by degrees my sober wits returned to me.
This was no place for either of us. Let the earth's tremors cease (as was plainly threatened), let daylight
come, and let a few of these nerveless people round recover from their panic, and all the great cost that had been expended might be counted as waste. We should be seen, and it would not be long before some one put a name to Naïs; and then it would be an easy matter to guess at Deucalion under the beard and the shaggy hair and the browned nakedness of the savage who attended on her. Tell of fright? By the Gods! I was scared as the veriest trembler who blundered among the dust-clouds that night when the thought came to me.
With all that ruin spread around, it would be hopeless to think that any of those secret galleries which tunnelled under the ground would be left unbroken, and so it was useless to try a passage under the walls by the old means. But I had heard shouts from that frightened mob which came to me through the din and the darkness that gave another idea for escape. "The city is accursed," they had cried: "if we stay here it will fall on us. Let us get outside the walls where there are no buildings to bury us."
If they went, I could not see. But one gate lay nearest to the royal pyramid, and I judged that in their panic they would not go farther than was needful. So I put the body of Naïs over my shoulder (to leave my right arm free) and blundered off as best I could through the stifling darkness.
It was hard to find a direction; it was hard to walk in that inky darkness over ground that was tossed and tumbled like a frozen sea; and as the earth still quaked and heaved, it was hard also to keep a footing.
[paragraph continues] But if I did fall myself a score of times, my dear burden got no bruise, and presently I got to the skirts of the square and found a street I knew. The most venomous part of the shaking was done, and no more buildings fell, but enough lay sprawled over the roadway to make walking into a climb, and the sweat rolled from me as I labored along my way.
There was no difficulty about passing the gate. There was no gate. There was no wall. The Gods had driven their plough through it, and it lay flat, and proud Atlantis stood as defenceless as the open country. Though I knew the cause of this ruin, though in fact I had myself in some measure incited it, I was almost sad at the ruthlessness with which it had been carried out. The royal pyramid might go, houses and palaces might be levelled, and for these I cared little enough; but when I saw those stately ramparts also filched away, there the soldier in me woke, and I grieved at this humbling of the mighty city that once had been my only mistress.
But this was only a passing regret, a mere touch of the fighting-man's pride. I had a different love now, that had wrapped herself round me far deeper and more tightly, and my duty was towards her first and foremost. The night would soon be past, and then dangers would increase. None had interfered with us so far, though many had jostled us as I clambered over the ruins; but this forbearance could not be reckoned upon for long. The earth-tremors had almost died away, and after the panic and the storm, then comes the time for the spoiling.
All men who were poor would try to seize what lay
nearest to their hands, and those of higher station, and any soldiers who could be collected and still remained true to command, would ruthlessly stop and strip any man they saw making off with plunder. I had no mind to clash with these guardians of law and property, and so I fled on swiftly through the night with my burden, using the unfrequented ways, and crying to the few folk who did meet me that the woman had the plague, and would they lend me the shelter of their house, as ours had fallen. And so in time we came to the place where the rope dangled from the precipice, and after Naïs had been drawn up to the safety of the Sacred Mountain, I put my leg in the loop of the rope and followed her.
Now came what was the keenest anxiety of all. We took the girl and laid her on a bed in one of the houses, and there in the lit room for the first time I saw her clearly. Her beauty was drawn and pale. Her eyes were closed, but so thin and transparent had grown the lids that one could almost see the brown of the pupil beneath them. Her hair had grown to inordinate thickness and length, and lay as a cushion behind and beside her head.
There was no flicker of breath; there was none of that pulsing of the body which denotes life; but still she had not the appearance of ordinary death. The Naïs I had placed nine long years before to rest in the hollow of the stone was a fine grown woman, full-bosomed and well-boned. The Naïs that remained for me was half her weight. The old Naïs it would have puzzled me to carry for an hour: this was no burden to impede a grown man.
In other ways too she had altered. The nails of her fingers had grown to such a great length that they were twisted in spirals, and the fingers themselves and her hands were so waxy and transparent that the bony core upon which they were built showed itself beneath the flesh in plain dull outline. Her clay-cold lips were so white that one sighed to remember the full beauty of their carmine. Her shoulders and neck had lost their comely curves, and made bony hollows now in which the dust of entombment lodged black and thickly.
Reverently I set about preparing those things which if all went well would restore her. I heated water and filled a bath, and tinctured it heavily with those essences of the life of beasts which the priests extract and store against times of urgent need and sickness. I laid her chin-deep in this bath, and sat beside it to watch, maintaining that bath at a constant blood heat.
An hour I watched; two hours I watched; three hours—and yet she showed no flicker of life. The heat of her body given her by the bath was the same as the heat of my own. But in the feel of her skin when I stroked it with my hand there was something lacking still. Only when our Lord the Sun rose for His day did I break off my watching, while I said the necessary prayer which is prescribed, and quickly returned again to the gloom of the house.
I was torn with anxiety, and as the time went on and still no sign of life came back, the hope that had once been so high within me began to sicken and leave me downcast and despondent. From without came
the din of fighting. Already Phorenice had sent her troops to storm the passage-way, and the priests who defended it were shattering them with volleys of rocks. But these sounds of war woke no pulse within me. If Naïs did not wake, then the world for me was ended, and I had no spirit left to care who remained uppermost. The Gods in Their due time will doubtless smite me for this impiety. But I make a confession of it here on these sheets, having no mind to conceal any portion of this history for the small reason that it does me a personal discredit.
But as the hours went on, and still no flicker of life came to lessen the dumb agony that racked me, I grew more venturesome, and added more essences to the bath, and drugs also, such as experience had shown might wake the disused tissues into life. I watched on with staring eyes, rubbing her wasted body now and again, and always keeping the heat of the bath at a constant. From the first I had barred the door against all who would have come near to help me. With my own hands I had laid my love to sleep, and I could not bear that others should rouse her, if indeed roused she should ever be. But after those first offers no others came, and the snarl and din of fighting told of what occupied them.
It is hard to take note of small changes which occur with infinite slowness when one is all the while on the tense watch, and high-strung though my senses were, I think there must have been some indication of returning life shown before I was keen enough to notice it. For of a sudden, as I gazed, I saw a
faint rippling on the surface of the water of the bath. Gods! would it come back again to my love at last—this life, this wakefulness? The ripple died out as it had come, and I stooped my head nearer to the bath to try if I could see some faint heaving of her bosom, some small twitching of the limbs. No, she lay there still without even a flutter of movement. But as I watched, surely it seemed to my aching eyes that some tinge was beginning to warm that blank whiteness of skin?
How I filled myself with that sight. The color was returning to her again beyond a doubt. Once more the dried blood was becoming fluid and beginning again to course in its old channels. Her hair floated out in the liquid of the bath like some brown tangle of the ocean weed, and ever and again it twitched and eddied to some impulse which in itself was too small for the eye to see.
She had slept for nine long years, and I knew that the wakening could be none of the suddenest. Indeed, it came by its own gradations and with infinite slowness, and I did not dare do more to hasten it. Further drugs might very well stop eternally what those which had been used already had begun. So I sat motionless where I was, and watched the color come back, and the waxenness go, and even the fulness of her curves in some small measure return. And when growing strength gave her power to endure them, and she was racked with those pains which are inevitable to being borne back again in this fashion to life, I too felt the reflex of her agony, and writhed in loving sympathy.
Still further, too, was I wrung by a torment of doubt as to whether life or these rackings would in the end be conqueror. After each paroxysm the color ebbed back from her again, and for a while she would lie motionless. But strength and power seemed gradually to grow, and at last these prevailed, and drove death and sleep beneath them. Her eyelids struggled with their fastenings. Her lips parted, and her bosom heaved. With shivering gasps her breath began to pant between her reddening lips. At first it rattled dryly in her throat, but soon it softened and became more regular. And then with a last effort her eyes, her glorious loving eyes, slowly opened.
I leaned over and called her softly by name.
Her eyes met mine, and a glow arose from their depths that gave me the greatest joy I have met in all the world.
"Deucalion, my love," she whispered. "Oh, my dear, so you have come for me. How I have dreamed of you! How I have been racked! But it was worth it all for this."