"This tradition was told me by my mother.
"She heard it from her mother. My great grandmother had told it to her, and thus it has been handed down from when it occurred to the present time. When that was I am unable to tell you, but it must have been many years ago. Before then we were even more ugly than now. Our legs were of a different shape, we could not stand upright, tails grew behind us, our arms were much longer, ending in hands with fingers nearly all the same length. We were much smaller, and completely covered with long hair.
"We did not live here, but in a place that became light and then dark. There were many thousands of us. An awful time came.
"The earth began to shake.
"Hot stuff like that in the hole they were going to throw you in, poured down the side of the mountain, filling many of the smaller caves and killing a large number of those who had taken shelter in them.
"A few took refuge in these caves and escaped.
"The earth shook for some time.
"Suddenly the roof of the cave in which they were standing opened, and there fell through a creature like you, but with long hair on its head.
"It was covered all over with things it could take off and put on again. It was not hurt, as it had fallen into a pool of water. On its appearance the earth was still again.
"When all was over there were very few of them left, for besides those that had been killed in the burning stuff, numbers had been crushed under the falling rocks.
"They tried to go into the light, but found they were unable to; the earth had covered the place they had come in at.
"They had nothing to eat and wandered about for some time in the dark.
"But at length they found some of those things that give light. They ate them and lived on nothing else. The female (for such they found her to be) cried for a long time. But at length she also ate them.
"One of my ancestors had lost his female during the earth-shaking, so he took her.
"She had some young ones.
"The first was white with the exception of its head—that was like its father—but it could not walk as she did.
"The next was still more like her, could stand erect and had no tail.
"These she taught to make a noise which she understood.
After having four young ones she died, and they bred amongst themselves and had a number of young ones who also bred white creatures with tails, and all covered with hair.
"They all obeyed the one who was most like the white female.
They could all understand each other as we now do.
"After they had been a long time in the caves in the dark—feeding on the things that gave light—they also lighted up things around them, very little at first, but afterwards the light became stronger.
"A long time elapsed, and then the earth again shook.
"All the original creatures were dead, and there remained only those who had been born since the white female came. These were of many shapes.
"Some of them were like I am; others had tails, some long ones, others short; some could walk erect, others used their hands as well as their legs.
"Some were all covered with hair; some only half covered.
"As time went on they began to degenerate and get more hairy. But all could walk without using their arms.
"Then it was seldom any were born like I am, and those who were the others always obeyed.
"There are none like me now. All have dark hair, and I am afraid there will not be another white one born amongst them. But as time goes on their young ones' young ones will become more and more like what we were before the white female came.
"Even now there are some of us who cannot talk, though they understand those who can.
"And to my sorrow some short time ago I saw a young one with a long tail who used its arms to help it along.
"I had it killed, as I did not wish it to breed, but was certain it will be of no use, as others are sure to be born like it.
"But now I am happy. You, I feel convinced, were sent here to help me.
"Therefore, I have saved your life that you may live with me. Our young ones will again be white. You shall be the head of us—and will save us from again becoming such as we were long ago."
Having finished the tale she came and sat near me. How awful, I thought, to be compelled to live with a monstrosity like this.
But, thought I, I do not wish to be killed. I will put her off for a time, and see if I can devise some means of escape from this horrible predicament.
Turning to her I said "What you have told me is really wonderful. Has the roof of the cave never opened since the white female came through? Did it not open the last time it shook?"
"Yes," she replied. "The last time some of them saw a strong tight for a little white shining through the roof, but it soon closed and was dark as before."
"Then there is no way out of this cave?" I asked.
"None," she answered.
My last hope was gone. I should have to pass the remainder of my life as the husband of this hideous creature.
I thought of the wife I had lost, and shuddered at the anticipation of having to submit to this monstrosity's embraces.
It was too horrible.
As in a nightmare I saw no way of escaping, except by death.
Yet, poor thing, I pitied her sincerely.
Turning to me she said, "You cannot give any light, so I will tell two of my creatures to stay with you always."
"You shall live in this small cave with me."
She gave a cry.
The servant instantly appeared at the opening. The white female spoke to her. She left, and in a few moments the leader of the fungi gatherers walked in.
She said something to him; he retired, and shortly returned, followed by about a dozen of the horrible male creatures.
Turning to me, she asked which I would have. I picked two of the smallest and weakest.
Touching them, I said "These."
"Good!" she said; then waving her hands to the others, "Go."
They left at once.
The two I had chosen took up positions, one on each side of me.
I determined I would have another look at the place through which I had fallen into the cave, and see if I could not find some means of escaping.
When do you send to the cave for fungi ?" I asked.
"Soon," she replied.
"I should like to go."
"I will come with you," she said.
Feeling very tired, I signified I should like to sleep.
Immediately the two phosphorescent creatures who were my servants put together several heaps of hair. On this I stretched myself, and very soon in my dreams was far away from this horrible place.
I had no way of counting time, so do not know how long I slept; but when I awoke I felt something round my neck, and found it was the arm of the white female, who was lying on the hair beside me.
The two servants had retired to one corner of the cave.
Finding her so close to me, I started.
My movement awakened her.
She removed her arm, at which I felt greatly relieved.
"When are you going to the fungi cave?"
"We will go now," she answered. Rising she spoke to the servants.
They both left the cave.
Bending down she put her arms round me, and lifting me up, kissed me. I was afraid to utter a cry, in case she might get in a rage and kill me. Her strength was wonderful. She raised me from the ground as if I had been a baby. No words can sufficiently express the revulsion I felt at her caress. But it was no use making a noise. In her embrace I was powerless.
"Let us go at once," I said.
She put me down, and we left the cave together.
Outside, in the large cave, we found all the fungi gatherers waiting.
Sending some of them on to light the way, we set out for the cave of serpents, as they called it. Following the same passage we came by, and crossing the crevices, we found ourselves amongst the fungi.
The snakes were very numerous, and before we had arrived at the large beds, one of the creatures in front gave a cry and fell down. We went up to it, and found it had been bitten; in a few minutes it was dead. They tied some stones to it, and dropped it into a pool as they had done with the others, and then started to fill their nets.
I was stooping down to pick a fungus, when a snake, lying near, threw itself against my hand and buried its fangs in the palm. I uttered a piercing shriek, which brought them all round me. Each moment I expected to die. The screams of the white female led me to believe that she had also been bitten.
She caught hold of my hand, and seeing where the fangs had penetrated, put her mouth to the wound and commenced to suck it.
The others stood round in silence.
Much to my surprise, the bite had no effect on me, except to make me feel sick and giddy for a few moments.
I soon felt all right again, and told the white female so. Her delight was unbounded.
She threw her arms round my neck, hugged me, and kissed me with great fervour. It was anything but pleasant, but as she had risked her life in sucking the snake bite, I submitted with the best grace I could.
The others were astounded, and murmurs of wonder ran around at my not succumbing to the effects of the poison at once. The reason of its having no effect on me I put down to the cobra bite having inoculated me, and made me poison proof as far as snake bites were concerned. Of course it may have been a non-poisonous snake, but seeing the two creatures die in such a short time, I had every reason to believe it was venomous. After they had filled their nets we started back. Crossing one of the crevices, an accident occurred.
In making the jump, one of the creatures trod too near the edge.
The earth gave way beneath it, and down, down, it went. For two or three seconds there was not a sound, and then we heard the dull thud of the body as it reached the bottom.
The creatures seemed to have no feeling concerning a death, and took no notice of it.
I asked the white female, who was walking near me, why they seemed to care so little, she answered:—
"It occurs so often that they are used to it."
As we were following the wall of the cave, before we came to the passage, we heard a great noise above us. We rushed from the side just in time to escape an enormous piece of rock that had become loosened and had fallen. I arrived at the passage and cave without any more accidents.
I heard the fungi gatherers recounting how I had been bitten and had not died. All came and looked at me. I had to show them the marks of the fangs in my hand. They were very much astonished, and evidently looked upon me as a supernatural being.