Page:Biagi - The Centaurians.djvu/209

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The Centaurians

broad, square, of sombre granite, the massive bronze portals stood wide.

A chill quietness pervaded all things, a sudden unaccountable feeling of abhorrence came over me. My swift glance traveled throughout the immense vestibule tiled with black marble and wainscoted to the ceiling with iron; the walls were ornamented with countless little brass knobs.

"A sepulchre!" I gasped; "a monstrous tomb!" and turning quickly fell heavily against a man who evidently had been following me.

"You wish to enter?" he asked, ignoring my awkwardness. In confusion I mumbled an apology. The moment I spoke he saluted deeply.

"One of the four strangers from the other side," he murmured; and without further ceremony led the way. I followed, plying him with questions, all of which he courteously answered. He informed me the circular spots that so attracted me were the knobs of little doors leading to diminutive, yet far-stretching lanes, containing the ashes of the departed. He twisted a great knob near the floor, instantly twenty or thirty little doors flew open and I peered curiously into the little dark alleys, some extending clear around the building and all containing ashes of those who had departed centuries ago.

"The fundamental law and perfecting touch of nature is extinction," the gentleman informed me. "At the expiration of a race," he continued, "the ashes of the entire line are removed from these cells and consigned to the underground vaults