Phosphor/Chapter 8

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CHAPTER VIII.

Lifting me they carried me through the cave into another one.

The light in this cave was intense, caused by heaps of fungi piled up against the walls, and was evidently their store-room.

Next we entered one of smaller dimensions.

On the sandy floor were small heaps of bluish white hair, resembling that on their bodies, but emitting no light.

This seemed to be a sleeping apartment, and the heaps of hair beds.

Here they stopped, and laying me on one of the heaps left the cave, the white female alone remaining.

She seated herself on some hair near me, and looked at me with interest.

I lay back, wondering what would next happen.

She gave a sharp cry, startling me considerably. One of the smaller creatures appeared at the entrance.

She said something to her—I could not catch the words—and she at once disappeared, returning shortly, carrying in her hands a piece of hollow lava containing some water.

This she placed near me, and left the cave.

The white female then addressed me, and said in Latin—"Wash your wounds."

(In future I shall translate their bastard Latin—as near the literal meaning as I can, and merely give the English.)

I felt some slight embarrassment in doing as she made me before her, she looked so human.

But as she made no movement it was plain she did not intend to go.

I had been buried in a suit of my pyjamas.

So, removing the coat, I examined myself and found I was very much bruised and cut about the chest and shoulders from my fall, and covered with blood.

So I proceeded to wash it away.

Whilst I was doing so, she advanced to where I was, and, touching my shoulder, said "beautiful."

The situation was becoming critical, so I hurried on my coat and sat down again.

When J had done so, she littered another cry, and the servant (for such she undoubtedly was) appeared at the opening as before.

The white female uttered something and the servant disappeared, soon appearing again, this time with some fungi.

Placing them on the ground, she retired.

The white female handed me a piece, and taking some herself began to eat it.

I hesitated to follow her example, and she, noticing my uncertainty, seemed surprised, and said "eat."

I felt very faint and hungry, so, without hesitating any longer, took a bite and chewed it.

The taste was by no means unpleasant, and somewhat resembled that of a raw mushroom, but was rather nicer.

I finished the piece I had, and took another.

Each mouthful I relished it more, until by the time I had eaten my third helping I thought I had seldom tasted anything more delicious.

After washing it down with some water I felt considerably refreshed.

The white female, who all this time had also been busily engaged eating, then turned to me and said, "They want me to kill you!"

"Why?" I asked.

"Because you have killed one of the sacred birds," she replied.

Then turning round she tossed some hair all over herself, and quietly went to sleep.

This was very pleasant!!

After escaping all the dangers I had passed through—to be murdered by these creatures for simply killing a hideous bird—which, if I had not done so, would have killed me!

What could I do? Try and escape?

If I did manage to elude them (which I very much doubted the possibility of) I knew not where to go.

The caves would all be dark if the inhabitants were not there, and even if I could find my way back to the one where they had found me, the vault was the only outlet I knew of, and that with its stench and blackness was worse than death.

So I determined to let events take their course.

Having decided, I commenced to look about me. My eyes first fell on the white female sleeping within a few feet of me.

What an awful monstrosity!

That horrible unsightly head!

By the light her body gave forth, I was able to examine the place we were in.

It was about thirty feet long by about the same width.

The walls were perfectly smooth from ground to roof.

It was some twelve feet above me, and composed of rough rocks, lava, pumice stone, and crystals, the same as the sides of the cave I had first been in.

There was nothing but the heaps of hair in it.

On the walls I saw some curious drawings.

One in particular was the body of a woman, but instead of having the frightful baboon's head, had that of a human being.

The drawing or rather carving was six feet high and originally must have been cut fully an inch into the rock, and seemed to have been done at some very remote date, as in some places I could hardly trace the outline.

The face was in a splendid state of preservation, and there was not the slightest doubt it was meant to represent a human being.

Much I wondered how it could have come to be here.

Who did it?

Surely not the creatures I had seen?

Was it possible that there might be some men or women in this awful place as well as myself?

I determined to ask the white female about it.

Perplexing myself with a thousand things, I fell asleep.

I was awakened by her touching me. Opening my eyes, I saw she had some fungi in her hand, and that a dish of water was on the ground near me.

My sleep had done me good and refreshed me considerably.

I sat up and asked her what she wanted.

"Eat," she said.

While I was doing so, she came near me, and, putting her arms round my neck, bent her head down as I thought to kiss me. I shuddered and drew back. This was more than I could stand.

Yet another passage of De Quincy's flashed through my mind—when he dreamt he was kissed "with the cancerous kisses of crocodiles."

As soon they, as to be saluted by the lips of this fearful creature.

She evidently felt hurt by my repulsion, and when I looked at her I saw tears in her eyes.

Stooping down she picked up a piece of fungus, then going down on her knees held it out to me.

I took it, and not knowing what else to do with it, ate it.

This she evidently understood as a sign of forgiveness, for she bent down and put her mobile lips to my hand.

Then arising she walked out of the cave without speaking.

What would happen next? I was not long kept in doubt.

The creature, who was the leader of those who had found me, entered with six of them and approached me.

He stopped in front of me and said, "come with me."

I got up and followed him; the six others walking behind me. We passed out of the cave into the store-room, and through it into the other.

Here were some hundreds of them evidently awaiting my arrival.

Directly they saw me they set up a cry which nearly deafened me.

I could not see the white female, and wondered where she was.

What were they going to do with me? The suspense was awful.

The leader turned round and said "follow me."

He led me into an opening in the wall of the cave we were in, and along a passage.

Some distance ahead was a light, looking as if it arose from the ground.

When we came up to it, I found that it did so, and was a small crater some ten feet across. I looked in, the glare from the hot, seething mass at the bottom was blinding.

Were they going to throw me into this?

My blood turned cold with fright. I attempted to retreat from the edge, but found I was completely hedged in by the hideous creatures.

Two advanced from amongst the rest and put their long, sinewy hands on my shoulder, one on each side.

My agony was indescribable. My last moment had evidently come. In a few moments I would be dead—the flesh burnt from off my bones, and my bones charred to ashes.

I tried to struggle but they held me as if in a vice—I could not move.

They dragged me to the side of the crater, lifted me up, and were in the act of throwing me in, when a piercing shriek rent the air.

They paused—and I saw the white female rushing through the crowd, who opened a passage for her. "Hold!" she cried, "Who told you to kill him? I want him—he must live." As she spoke she pushed aside the two who had hold of me and placed her hand on my arm.

The leader stepped up to her and said, "He has killed one of the sacred birds, the penalty is death."

The crowd greeted his words with yells of applause.

The white female never moved, but when they had stopped, replied,

"The penalty for one of us is death, but he is not one of us, therefore I say he shall live."

The terrible creatures remained silent; she continued—

"I am your Queen, and you chose me for being most like our mother."

"Here is one who is more like her than I am."

"Yet, you would kill him? You shall not; I will take him; he shall be mine, and our young shall rule over you, and each generation shall be more beautiful than the one before." These, as near as I can remember them, were the words uttered by this strange creature.

For a moment after she ceased, they were silent, then they burst into applause.

She took me by the hand and led me through the crowd who stepped aside and let us pass back to the large cave and from there to the small one.

When we were inside she let go my hand, and throwing herself on a bed of hair, cried bitterly.

When she stopped I thanked her for saving my life.

She looked at me with her deep-set melancholy eyes and said, "Where do you come from?"

I replied, "From outside the earth."

"Where is that?" she asked.

I told her "Outside of here."

She did not understand what outside meant, but, pointing to the figure cut into the wall, she said, "She came from there." I asked, "When?" "I do not know," she answered. "Do you know anything about her?" I asked. "My mother told me about her before she died," she replied. I seated myself on one of the heaps of hair, and asked her to tell me all she knew. This is what she told me, translated as well as I was able from the bastard Latin she spoke in.