Phosphor/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X.

Some time after this event, the white female commenced to importune me in a most unpleasant manner to live with her.

I could see no way of escape—the crisis had come.

Was I to give up every idea of refinement—degenerate into a brute like these half bestial creatures—have children, and die, with monsters calling me father.

Or should I refuse to accede to her demands and without a doubt be killed? For I was certain she would kill me if I disappointed her.

If only she had a more human face, no matter how ugly, I might have overcome my repugnance.

Her body, arms, and legs were beautifully shaped.

She seemed kind and gentle, and was evidently very fond of me. But that ugly head was ever rising before me in all its awful hideousness. Then again, how horrible to die; probably be thrown into the crater, and in boiling lava be roasted, scalded, burned to nothingness.

Suddenly a thought struck me. If this creature were dead, they might not put me to death. Why should I not kill her? But how do so without being found out? A thousand ideas at once presented themselves, but all seemed attended with too much risk.

At last one occurred to me that seemed feasible.

Why not let a snake bite her?

I could manage to catch one the next time I went to the fungi cave, bring it back, and put it in her hair bed before she went to sleep.

It would bite her; she would die, and I should be freed from her persecutions.

It would not kill me, as the other bite had had no effect.

But if it did, that death would be preferable to being burned, or to living as her husband. Cruel, cowardly, wicked as it may seem, I had no compunction in deciding to kill this creature who had saved my life, but was feverish with desire to accomplish the murder, and only longed to know that she was dead.

Having decided on my mode of action, I rose from the hair I had been sitting on. Just as I did so, the white female entered the cave, carrying water and some fungi.

She came towards me, and, placing these on the floor, told me to eat and drink.

My conscience smote me.

What right had I to take the life of this creature, who only seemed to think of my welfare?

I cast these thoughts from me, and determined that nothing should divert me from my purpose.

Yet I would give her one more chance, and see if there was any other way of escaping her embraces.

She had thrown herself on some hair at my feet, and was watching me.

Turning to her, I said, "Do you care for me very much?"

She looked surprised and answered, "Of course, or else I should not want you to live with me."

"Supposing I were to die now, what would you do?" I asked.

"You will not die yet," she said, and smiled.

The answer and smile combined settled her fate.

Nothing should force me to submit to be kissed by those repulsive-looking lips, and to have that baboon's head resting on my breast.

Yes! Away with all remorse and compunction.

She must die.

"When do you go again to the cave of snakes?" I enquired.

"After we sleep, some of the servants start," she answered. "I shall go with them," I said. "Why do you want to go?" "Why will you not stop here with me?" she asked. "I am tired of remaining in this cave. I shall not be absent long. You wait here until return," I said.

"Then you will stay with me altogether?"

I nodded my head, and stretching myself on some hair, fell asleep.

When I awoke the female was sitting near my feet, and the light from her body made visible every thing within a few yards.

Directly I opened my eyes she said, "They are waiting for you." I jumped up, and went outside the cave; she followed me.

There stood all the creatures holding the nets for carrying the fungi.

The white female wanted to come with me, but I said, "You will be tired; it is too far."

She looked pleased, poor thing, at the consideration my words implied, and said she would stay behind. So we set out without her, much to my satisfaction.

When we arrived at the snake cave, I left the others and wandered about under the pretence of looking for larger fungi.

Here and there were large patches or beds of the phosphorescent fungi, lighting up everything for some distance around.

Amongst these beds I searched for a small snake.

There were numbers of large ones, but very few small enough to hide in the coat-pocket of my pyjamas, where I intended to put it, and those that were small enough were very quick and difficult to catch.

After some trouble I succeeded in procuring one. It was very lively, and bit my finger as I caught it, but its bite, like that of the other, had no effect.

I put the snake in my pocket, tied the mouth up so that it could not escape, and joined the others. They had filled the nets and were ready to return.

Directly I joined them we started.

Arriving at the opening of the passage that led into the big cave, we found the white female and several others waiting for us.

She had evidently been anxious about me, for directly she saw me she looked pleased, and, throwing her arms round me, kissed me.

Then she told me that since our departure a young one had been born, who was just like those who had lived, ages and ages before.

She insisted on my going to see it.

I did so, and found it with its mother; the father, who was like a baboon with the exception of having shorter arms, and being able to stand upright, was sitting on a rock near them, regarding the little beast with a look of pity in his deep-set eyes.

The young one, though only a few hours old, was already moving about near its mother on all fours, and had a long tail.

The white female wept. "This is what they will all be like soon," she said.

"You must live with me, and we will rear a new generation more like yourself. Our young ones shall breed with those amongst us who are most like me, and we will be saved from the awful fate of having young ones like that," she added, pointing to the little baboon, whose mother was feeding it.

She called to one of the two servants who always attended me, and told him to take the young one and throw it into the crater.

The mother, on hearing this, set up an awful howl, and pressed the little one to her breast.

The father sat with his hideous head bowed on his hairy chest, taking no notice.

I asked her to spare it. "No!" she said, "It must die. If it lived, it would only breed others like itself."

And, in spite of the mother's resistance and yells, the little one was torn from her and carried away, moaning in the most piteous manner, to be thrown into the crater.

I followed, and saw the creature take the little one by the tail, and toss it into the boiling mass below.

Hardly had it passed over the side of the crater, when the mother, who had followed to see the last of her young one, uttered a piercing shriek, and jumped in after it.

The father stood on the brink, looking at the spot where she had disappeared, moaning, and beating his chest with his fists.

He made a weird picture, standing in the glaring light that issued from the crater. His long bluish-white hair, and hideous face working in agony, showed minutely in the bright light, assisted by the glow of his own body.

We left him standing there, and returned to the small cave.

After we had been there a few moments, the white female went outside.

Immediately, I untied my pocket, took out the snake, and put it in the bed of hair she usually slept upon.

Then, going to the one I used, I threw myself down and pretended to be asleep.

Presently she entered, followed by the two creatures who attended me.

Seeing me lying down, she signalled for them to leave the cave; then came to where I was, knelt down at my side, and put her face close to mine.

I shuddered inwardly, but still pretended I was asleep.

After waiting a little while she evidently thought I was unconscious, and not wishing to awake me, arose from her knees, and to my great relief walked to the pile of hair I had put the snake in.

By the light her body emitted I could see plainly.

If the snake had not left before she came, in a few minutes it would bite her and she would die.

Now the time had come, I fell a little compunction. She was very fond of me. I wondered if it would give her much pain. Those I had seen die in the cave suffered terribly. For a second I nearly lost control over myself, and called to her not to lie down. I checked this weakness, and waited anxiously to hear her cry. But no cry was uttered; she covered herself up with hair and went to sleep.

I never took my eyes off her, and kept acting over in my own mind the scene that I expected to occur momentarily.

How the snake would wake her up by biting her!

How she would start, put her hand to the place to see what it was, feel the snake, yell, jump up, stagger about, then fall in convulsions on the ground and die in agony!

This passed through my mind scores of times, each time with some other slight incident coupled to it, until it assumed so appalling a shape and so terrified me, that I determined to creep over and try and capture the snake and kill it before it bit her.

Rising to my feet very carefully, so as to make no noise, I approached the hair she was lying on.

I saw the head of the snake protruding from under the hair. Darting forward I tried to grasp it, but it was too quick, and slipped back amongst the hair.

I waited until I again saw it, but each time I evaded my grasp.

Suddenly I saw a shudder pass over the female's whole frame, and the next second the snake came from beneath the hair, and swiftly glided into the darkness.

Could it have bitten her?

I placed my hand gently over her left breast, and could feel her heart beating very faintly. I pressed with greater force; it awakened her.

Opening her eyes and seeing me, she stretched out her arms. As she did so a shudder convulsed her.

Her arms dropped, her head fell back, her jaw relaxed.

She was dead.

This poor, gentle, kind, hideous monstrosity was dead, and I was the murderer, I was somehow glad she did not know I had killed her.

Creeping back to my own bed I threw myself on it, and tried to sleep but could not.