Phosphor/Chapter 7

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CHAPTER VII.

They all clustered round, and seeing me, raised a dreadful clamour.

Each second I expected them to fall on me and kill me, but they simply stood howling.

In a few moments the leader stepped from the rest, and advancing close to me—to my utmost astonishment—said some words. At first I could not understand, then I made out he was speaking in bastard Latin and meant "Unde venis," "Where do you come from?" I replied in the best Latin I could muster, "Ex terra superna," "From above this place."

He then said, "quid facis," "What are you doing here?" I replied "cecidi," "I have fallen down."

Directly he had finished, the others, who had remained quite quiet during this conversation, commenced to jabber all at once.

I could not understand what they were saying; but as they first pointed at me and then at the pool wherein they had thrown the body, I had no difficulty in arriving at the conclusion that they were discussing whether they should drown me or not.

Most of them seemed in favour of my death and some advanced towards me.

I was perfectly powerless against so many, in fact one could have managed me in my weak state.

So, knowing resistance was hopeless, I remained perfectly quiet, consoling myself with the reflection that if I was to die I could not help it.

Just as they were going to seize me one of the smaller ones ran between.

This gave me a respite for a moment.

Immediately others joined her, and by their noise and gesticulations evidently begged the males to spare me.

This they seemed in no mood to do.

Every moment I expected them to push aside my protectors and put an end to me.

The leader, who all this time had remained inactive, seeing they were divided in opinion concerning whether I was to live or die, now approached the disputants and signalled for the larger ones to move back.

This they did, uttering the while savage cries at being disappointed of their prey.

Turning to them he jabbered for some time, and at last they were apparently satisfied.

He next directed his attention to me, and in the bastard Latin he had used before said, "surge,"

"get up." I pointed to my legs and shaking my head replied, "non possum" "I cannot."

He evidently comprehended, for he at once beckoned to six of the others, who walked towards me, as I thought to kill me.

Two lifted me under the shoulders, two took my legs, and two clasped each others hands under my back.

I felt a horrible sensation of repulsion as they touched me, but as I could do nothing I lay still.

The one, who had spoken, sent some of them in front, for what reason I could not at first make out, but after a time I saw it was to drive away the snakes.

He walked after them in the space they cleared, then came those carrying me, then the smaller, and lastly the larger creatures bearing on their backs the nets filled with fungi.

In this way we traversed part of the cave, occasionally passing beds of fungi, and seeing in the distance patches of light caused by them.

They were of a smaller kind than those near where I had been lying, and the further we proceeded the smaller they became.

Overhead I now and then saw flashes of light shooting like rockets across the darkness, caused by the birds flying from one part of the cave to another.

Soon the beds of fungi disappeared, and, but for the wonderful phosphorescent light emanating from the bodies of the creatures who were with me, and lighting up everything for some distance around us, we would have been in total darkness.

My companions seemed to be very much afraid of snakes, and after seeing their fellow's death I was not surprised.

Whenever they came across a snake (and that was very often), they uttered cries of fright and got out of its way as quickly as possible.

After some time we came to a deep fissure, and putting me on the ground they talked amongst themselves for a while, evidently trying to devise a means of getting me across.

It was plain they did not intend to kill me at once, or they would not have taken the trouble to carry me carefully all this distance.

They had brought me along so gently that I began to lose a little of my former horror of them.

I looked into the gap before me and shuddered. "How would they ever cross it with me?"

I was not left long in doubt.

The fissure was about five feet wide, and I should have thought nothing of jumping it had I been strong; but in my present condition I could not walk, much less make a jump.

My companions had evidently decided on a way to accomplish my passage.

About twelve of them jumped to the other side, then two of the largest lay down at right angles to the edge of the crevice side by side.

The others held on to one another in two long strings, the foremost ones holding the legs of those lying down. Those on the side where I was did likewise. The two on each side now stretched their long arms across the opening until they touched one another, then drawing themselves close together put their arms around each other's bodies.

Thus they formed a living bridge.

My bearers instantly lifted me up and carried me, trembling with fear, on to the backs of their companions.

In a few seconds I was safely landed on the other side.

They then let go in the centre and were safely pulled back to their respective sides.

Those on the opposite side now jumped across; and we again set out, I knew not where.

On this side of the fissure, I noticed there were no snakes, or fungi; and very few birds.

Presently we came to another fissure of larger size than the former one.

At an enormous distance down, I could hear the sound of water, as it rushed and roared over its narrow, rocky bed.

We followed this opening for some time until we came to a place small enough to form a bridge.

After going through the same performance as at the first opening, I was safely landed on the other side, and we proceeded as before.

As I was borne along I made a thousand conjectures concerning these strange creatures.

They were evidently not monkeys, for they had the power of speech.

Certainly not men; as some of them had short tails.

What could they be?

Suddenly Darwin's theory flashed through my mind.

Yes! Undoubtedly they were the missing link.

But, how account for the phosphorescent light they emitted?

This, I reasoned, might be the effect of the fungi they fed on, the essence of which, having thoroughly impregnated their bodies, passed through the pores of their skin.

Whether this was possible I could not say, but it was the only way I could account for it.

Reasoning thus, I lost a great deal of the fear that had at first possessed me, and observed my captors with increased interest.

How was it they had never been discovered before?

Why was it left for me in the nineteenth century to prove what the cleverest men could only theorize about.

Should I ever get out of this awful place and be able to give my discovery to the world?

These and a thousand other thoughts passed through my head.

During my cogitations I had shut my eyes; on opening them I found we had arrived at an opening in the rocky wall.

The leader entered it, my bearers followed, and then came the rest. On entering it I saw it was a passage about twenty feet wide.

The walls, as in the other cave, were composed of rock, glistening with crystals, but here they were smooth and seemed to be rather the work of hands than of nature.

The floor was covered with fine white sand—the height of the walls was about ten or twelve feet.

We traversed this passage for about a mile, then I perceived we were approaching a light.

This I fancied was the mouth of the passage, and wondered if the light was caused by the rays of the sun.

At last we arrived at the opening and I saw another amazing sight—a cave similar to the one we had left but of medium size, was before me.

But, unlike the other, this was perfectly light.

This was the light I had noticed shining at the end of the passage, and was caused by some hundreds of the same strange creatures as were with me.

The cave, like the floor of the passage, was covered with fine, white sand, and on it lay or played about amongst the rocks at the side, numbers of these wonderful monstrosities.

Amongst them I noticed several who looked even more human than the leader of the ones I was with.

On seeing us they at once left off their antics, and came towards us.

When they beheld me they gave vent to screams, whether of joy or anger I could not decide, and several at once rushed away.

Soon they returned.

In front of them walked one who looked quite human, except for its head, and that was as ugly as the heads of those with me.

As it came, the others all stepped aside, and made way for it to approach me.

By its height it was evidently a female, and by the deference shown her she was as evidently of importance.

Her limbs and body were perfectly white and beautifully shaped, ending in hands and feet like those of human being's.

In place of the long coarse hair, covering the bodies of the others, she had very little, and what there was, was very short, thin, white, and silky.

When I looked at her head I shuddered.

It was well set on her white shoulders, but the horrible retreating forehead, deep sunken eyes, longish ears and protruding underjaw (all, like her body, covered with short, silky hair), gave her an even more awful appearance than those who most resembled baboons.

The leader advanced to meet her.

They conversed for some time in bastard Latin.

I could make out a few words here and there, and understood he was giving her an account of finding me in the "cave of serpents" (as he called it), about the snake killing their mate, and also about the death of the bird.

I gathered that the bird was held sacred on account of its killing the snakes, of which these creatures were in great terror.

He accused me of having been the cause of its death, and wished her to give him permission to kill me.

This she would not consent to, but came up to where I was lying. Touching me with her hand, she said in Latin:

"Why did you kill it?" I explained to her as well as I was able that it had first attacked me while asleep, and tried to kill me, that picking up a stone I had thrown it and hit the bird, which was wounded.

That the others, seeing one of their number on the ground, at once came around it, and ended by tearing it to pieces and devouring it.

She called the leader, and explained that the motive of my act was only self-defence.

And that in reality the birds had killed their mate.

Then pointing to me she said, "Hic ferti," bring him here."