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Title: Out Of The Silence
Author: Erle Cox
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0604821.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Out Of The Silence
Erle Cox




PROLOGUE.

There was a man seated at a table in what appeared to be a vast
physical laboratory. On the table, which was littered with instruments
and apparatus, stood a large glass tank in which a fish could be seen
swimming. The silence was broken only by occasional movements of the
man utterly absorbed in the work he was doing.

Of the many striking features of the room, the man himself was the
most remarkable. Even seated, his unusual height was apparent. It was
the face however that marked him as one apart. His hair was sparse,
and beneath the high wide forehead were set cold grey penetrating eyes
from which human emotion seemed absent. Beneath the thin straight nose
was a mouth that formed a straight lipless line. Every feature down to
the strong chin was clear cut and regular. It was a face that inspired
a feeling of awe. Even in repose he seemed to radiate power.

Behind him, the further wall of the room was formed of one great
window, set in a wall so thick that its low sill formed a seat.
Through it could be seen a broad valley through which a river flowed.
Beyond in the distant background stood a vast structure in the shape
of a sphere, set on a cubical base.

Intent on his work, with his long slender fingers moving with delicate
precision among the instruments before him, the man seemed oblivious
to the entrance of a woman, who paused with an expression of surprise
on her face when she saw him. For a moment she seemed about to speak,
but with a faint smile and shrug of her shoulders she crossed the room
and took her place at another table.

Any other but the man with the fish might well have been aroused by
the presence of the newcomer. She was as exquisitely lovely and
feminine as he was forbidding and masculine. Her long simple gown,
caught at the waist by a pliant metal band made her appear taller than
she was. As she crossed the room the grace of her movement seemed
floating rather than walking. She was a figure of radiant youth and
glorious beauty that could hold mankind spellbound.

For a few moments after she seated herself she looked speculatively at
the man with the fish, then turning to her work, her hands moved among
some mechanism before her. As she did so a large dark disc standing in
front of the table glowed with a yellow light across which strange
characters in rows began to move. Occasionally with a touch of her
hand, she halted them to make a note, but for an hour she sat, with
her eyes intent on the disc--until suddenly the silence was broken by
the clear note of a bell. In response to a swift movement of her hand,
the colour of the disc changed from yellow to blue, and was again
covered with moving characters. Eagerly she watched until, on the
second sound of the bell, she shut off the light.

Leaning back in her chair, a slow smile of amusement crossed her face
as she looked over at the other table.

"How long will it take you to discover the utmost capabilities of that
fish's brain, Andax?" she asked.

If the man heard, he gave no sign. The smile broke into a light laugh,
and the woman turned slightly to a large screen beside her, beneath
which, on its frame were several rows of light bulbs. Then she pulled
over a small switch on the table.

Then her clear voice rang through the room with a note of command.

"General Call! By order of the High Council."

As she spoke the bulbs along the frame began to glow until all
responded but one. She watched the dull bulb impatiently and repeated
more emphatically.

"General Call! By order of the High Council." As she spoke the last
bulb responded.

As it did so her voice rang out again, "General Call, Earani, director
of the central geophysical station reports on behalf of the Council.
Polar observation stations announce steady and progressive deflection
from terrestrial stability. Last observation, 2.33 a.m., shows variation
of 2,000 feet. Vast fissures are growing over both polar ice caps.
Estimated duration of life on the planet, 43 days. First audible
indications of disruption detected at general Station No. 7 at
midnight last night. Council orders that until further instructions
all work on the planet will go forward as usual. No exceptions will be
granted."

"High Council Order No. 2. Volunteers are called to fill mortality
wastage at polar stations at the probable rate of 100 per day.
Volunteers will report at station No. 16 with full polar equipment.
Order and report closes."

As the lights on the frame faded the woman pulled over another switch
and spoke sharply--"Special call Station 11." As she spoke the screen
glowed and on it appeared the figure of a young man.

"Name?" she demanded.

"Bardon," came the answer.

"Bardon the poet?"

"Yes."

"Explain 30 seconds' delay in answering a general call."

"I was writing a poem."

"You know the regulations, you are in charge of a station. You know
the penalty?"

"Yes!"

"Report to your district executive committee at midday tomorrow. They
will deal with you. I will send a relief."

She switched off the light as she spoke and the figure vanished.

From across the room came a cold ironical voice--"Flat dereliction of
duty, Earani. You should have turned the ray on him."

Earant laughed lightly. "If anyone deserves the ray it is the man or
woman who put a poet in charge of a general call station. Besides,
since we will all be dead in 43 days I see no object in official
executions."

"Still," Andax persisted, "the council's order said all work must go
forward as usual."

There was a touch of hauteur in her voice as she replied. "I exercise
my official right of discretion. Anyone but one of your breed would
know that one of Bardon's poems is worth the 43 days of life left to
the planet."

There was a contemptuous "Humph!" from the fish table.

Earani laughed and imitated the "Humph!" perfectly. "If it comes to
dereliction of duty, Andax, how is it that I find you in my department
and not in your own?"

"Those audible indications of disruption. Your department is
insulated--mine is not."

Earani left her table and walked quietly to the window where she sat
looking over the landscape. "If I used my authority of the ray, does
it occur to you, that you too, have made yourself liable to its
application?"

"As always, you are right," Andax answered without looking around.
"Don't allow my feelings to violate your strict sense of duty."

"Get back to your fish, Andax," she retorted. "You and it make a fine
cold blooded pair."

The grating voice came back. "I hold a theory that all of the ills
that have beset humanity arise from a feminine influence that
distracted the Creator when He was making the Universe."

"Judging by what women have suffered from men ever since, I should not
be surprised if you were right."

"My fish has one charm, at any rate, that is denied your suffering
sex."

"Flatterer!" she laughed, "Don't be shy and spoil the compliment by
leaving it incomplete."

"The fish, dear lady, has the virtue of being inarticulate."

Earant looked at the bent figure and said slowly and with conviction.
"Somewhere in the world, my dear Andax, there must be a woman who does
not realise the happiness she enjoys through your being a bachelor.
You can see our world end with the comforting thought that you have
made at least one woman happy."

"Stars in heaven! How can a man work?" He stood up and walked over to
her. Earani gazed out over the landscape disregarding his approach.

Andax towered over her. "Listen Earani," he spoke abruptly and
emphatically. "There are 43 days left. More than time for the
operation and recovery."

Without turning her head, Earani uttered a decisive "No."

As she spoke Marnia entered the laboratory, without speaking to the
others she seated herself at Earani's table and read through the notes
that Earani had made.

Andax took up the tale. "But the whole thing is so simple. It could be
done tonight."

She turned and looked up at him defiantly. "When you first asked me
two years ago to allow you to graft one lobe of your precious
brother's brain onto mine, I refused, I have refused twenty times
since. Do you imagine with but 43 days left I would submit to such an
infliction. I don't wish to end life with a mind like yours or your
brother's."

"You women!" he sniffed impatiently, "can't you see that what before
was merely an experiment is now an imperative necessity."

"I can see no imperative necessity to gratify your wish to convert me
into a feminine semi-Andax," she said derisively.

"Can't you realise that you will be chosen to occupy the third
sphere?" he demanded.

"I?" Earani stood abruptly, facing him with amazement.

"Yes! You!" he retorted impatiently. "Since one of the three must be a
woman, the Council is left with no option."

"But," she exclaimed. "The selectors recommended Marnia to the High
Council."

Andax shrugged his shoulders. "True! but the fool is in love. Do you
imagine the council will allow one of the three to carry a sentimental
complication into the new world?"

"But Marnia--" began Earani.

Marnia rose from the table, and walking towards them interrupted--
"What about Marnia?"

Earani took her hand--"Andax says that you are not to be one of the
three."

The girl smiled and said gently. "He is right, Earani. I could not bear
to stay behind and leave Davos. I petitioned the Council. It is not
officially announced, but I know they have agreed. Do you mind very
much?"

"But I have heard nothing," protested Earani.

"I have only just heard myself," explained Marnia. "I came to warn
you, but Andax has forestalled me. How he knew, I don't know. The
decision was made less than an hour ago."

There was a thin smile on Andax's lips as he said, "I knew nothing
officially. But the fact was obvious."

"Pure Andaxian speculative philosophy," laughed Marnia.

"Well," sneered Andax, "seeing that you and Davos have done everything
but announce your insensate infatuation by a general call, the
deduction did not impose a great strain on my pure Andaxian
speculative philosophy."

"But why me?" asked Earani helplessly.

"Because," Andax threw his arms wide, "the Creator and the Council in
its wisdom only know why, they have insisted on choosing a woman to be
one of the three."

"To clip your wings in the bright new world if there ever be one,"
taunted Marnia.

"But there are others!" exclaimed Earani. "There must be others!"

There was a scarcely veiled sneer in the voice of Andax. "A becoming
modesty Earani. However, since you have done biology, geophysics, law,
engineering and domestic science, you will do as well as another.
Besides the selectors placed your name second on the list--drew them
by lot I suppose."

Marnia put her arm fondly round Earani's waist. "What a delightful
companion he will be for you in the new world," she laughed merrily.

"You poor, gland-ridden automaton," his thin smile took the sting from
the words. Then he turned abruptly to Earani. "Well what about the
operation now?"

"Now less than ever," she answered in a tone that closed the
discussion. As she spoke she resumed her seat on the window ledge.

There was blistering contempt in Andax's voice. "A woman and a fool, a
useful fool I admit, but never anything else than a woman."

He turned and walked towards her table, as he did so Davos entered.

Marnia uttered a joyful "Davos!" and ran to meet him. "You have heard?
I am reprieved."

"Yes, I know, I know." Davos put his arm across her shoulder. "We go
together." Then turning to Andax he went on. "I would not settle down
to work, Andax, you and your fish will be parted almost immediately."

Earani who had been watching them from the window, broke in. "What
dreadful partings this calamity will cause. You had better kiss it,
Andax."

Disregarding the taunt, Andax turned to Davos. "You mean?"

Davos nodded his head. "The High Council is in session. You and Earani
are bound to be summoned almost at once. Your partner in the spheres,
Mardon, has already been notified. His speed ship is due almost at any
moment."

Davos, his arm still about Marnia's shoulders, walked with her towards
Earani's table where they stood whispering together; Earani turned
away gazing through the window at the distant sphere. Andax looked
from one to the other with an expression between boredom and
amusement.

Then with a gesture of impatience he barked at Davos. "Perhaps, Davos,
you can spare me a moment from the contemplation of the delights of an
impending violent death with Marnia to supply me with some official
information."

The three broke into laughter.

"One thing I admire in your breed," said Earani, "is its unfailing
tact and consideration for the feelings of others."

Davos bowed to him ironically. "Surely there is no information that a
Davos can give an Andax?"

"Spare my humility," snapped Andax. "Perhaps you can tell me if the
allocation of the spheres has been decided."

Davos waved his hand in the direction of the sphere in the window.
"Yes, Earani goes to number one, you take number two, and Mardon will
have number three."

"Hump!" Andax turned to Earani. "This means that we will be sealed up
almost immediately. The council will take no risks now that the time
is so short." Then to Davos, "Have you heard anything?"

Davos paused before replying and looked speculatively at Earani.

She understood his hesitation. "Don't worry about my feelings, Davos,"
she smiled. "I am very interested and not very anxious."

"Well," replied Davos, "number one will be sealed tomorrow at midday.
You go north tomorrow night, and Mardon leaves for number three this
evening."

"Not losing any time now, are they?" commented Andax. Then abruptly to
Davos. "What is the estimate of you and your committee of geniuses.
Have you finished wrangling and guessing yet?"

Davos shrugged his shoulders. "The only wrangling in the committee was
done by that delightful brother of yours, Andax. I sometimes feel
convinced that his manners are worse than yours."

Andax snorted--"I'm not asking for fulsome flattery, but for
information."

"Well, since you ask so nicely," replied Davos, "the committee is of
the opinion after weighing every factor, that at least twenty seven
million years must elapse before the planet is fit for intelligent
human civilisation again."

Andax smiled across to the window. "It seems, Earani, that we are
about to enjoy quite a long rest."

"Yes," said the girl quietly, "but if we come through it will be worth
it."

"Yes," Andax murmured. "If!" For the moment he shed his arrogance.
"Scientifically, mathematically and theoretically, the plan is
perfect."

"Well," broke in Marnia, "I don't envy either of you even if it does
succeed."

"The only flaw is that the spheres may not stand the strain of the
final smash," put in Davos.

"Stars in heaven," Andax exclaimed, his grey eyes flashing enthusiasm.
"It is worth a thousand times the risk. Think of the glory of having a
new world to play with, and to mould how we wish."

Davos laughed as he replied. "Anyway we have one advantage you two
will not enjoy. It will be a unique experience to witness the final
smash."

"A pity to miss it," Andax agreed grudgingly. "But we cannot have
both."

From the window Earani spoke. "A flying courier has just landed at the
door. The summons, I expect."

A moment later a courier in tight-fitting flying kit entered. He
included the four in a general salute. "By command of the High
Council. Andax and Earani will wait on the Council without delay."

He bowed and retired.

Earani arose from her seat. "Come with us, Marnia--to the door of the
chamber, at least," and the four followed the courier.

It was a vast majestic hall in which the High Council sat on a raised
dais at its further end. Down its centre from the entrance ran a wide
carpeted passage. From this passage on either side rose galleries
crowded with silent spectators. The President who occupied the central
seat on the platform was a tall stately man with a calm and benevolent
appearance. The four councillors who sat on either side of him were
all advanced in years. Two of them were women.

There was an atmosphere of strained expectancy over the whole
assemblage as the wide doors of the great chamber slowly unfolded. All
eyes were turned on the little group they revealed that waited on the
threshold.

The voice of the official rang through the Hall. "Surrendering to the
command of the High Council. I have the honour to present Andax,
Earani and Mardon."

From an official at the foot of the dais came the command. "Enter,
Andax, Earani and Mardon and learn the will of the most honourable
High Council."

As the three walked slowly down the long passage all of the spectators
rose and remained standing until they paused, bowing before the dais.
Not until the murmur and rustle of the great gathering ceased after
they had resumed their seats, did the President stand and come to the
edge of the dais.

Looking down on the three, he spoke slowly and with profound
earnestness. "My children, it has pleased the creator of our planet to
permit the destruction of all who dwell upon its surface. That moment,
long foretold, is upon us. But in the hope that all of the
achievements of our race for the happiness of humanity may not vanish
utterly with them, we have resolved on an expedient whereby they may
hand down the wisdom of our race to that, which, in the fullness of
time, may follow us."

"On you three, my children, has fallen that grave and terrible trust.
It may be, for our eyes are blinded to the outcome, that you face
events beside which the death that shadows the planet will be a very
small thing. We know none among us fears death. But, what the future
holds for you, none may say. Therefore I charge you, if your hearts be
not firm in their purpose, you may now retire from it in peace and
honour, and with the goodwill of your fellows--none hindering or none
blaming.

"Speak now, each one of you."

The voice of Andax echoed through the chamber. "I take the trust upon
me for the honour of the race."

Earani's clear sweet voice followed. "And I for the love of humanity."

From Mardon came. "I gladly and willingly accept the trust with which
I am honoured."

A low whispering murmur that swept over the assembled throng was
stilled by a motion of the President's hand.

Again he spoke. "In the name of our race the High Council commends you
and accepts the sacrifice.

"My children, from this moment you surrender yourselves to the will of
the High Council. I charge you in the knowledge that any deviation
from the way of honour will call down upon you its own penalty of
atonement, that you will carry out in all things the plans of our race
in which you have been instructed. In the discharge of the trust you
have assumed there must be no thought of self, and should the time
come, there will be no swerving from the course laid down, nor any
shrinking from the tasks, however terrible, to bring peace, wisdom and
happiness to those who may follow us."

He paused. "Kneel, my children!"

Quietly the three sank to their knees.

Looking down on them the President went on. "Raise your hands and
repeat after me my words.--I swear on the faith of my creator--upon
the honour of my name--and by my loyalty to my fellowship of the race
that is about to die--that I will never, by word or deed--betray the
trust that is imposed upon me. I swear unwavering loyalty to my
ideals, and to the two partners who share my trust--and for them, if
need be, I will lay down my life."

So still was the hushed hall as the three voices followed that of the
President, that it might have been empty.

The old man raised his hands in benediction over them. "The blessing
and love and the hopes of the dying race be upon you; may they make
strong your hearts and purposes; and may you be guided in wisdom
justice and honour in the days of your trust."

As he returned to his seat the three stood up, still facing the
Council.

A woman councillor on the right of the President stood and addressed
them, her voice trembling a little as she began.

"Earani, it is the will of the High Council that at noon tomorrow you
surrender yourself at the sphere known as number one, and there you
will be given oblivion.

"Andax, by sunset tomorrow night you will leave for your post at
number two sphere, and there surrender yourself to the district
council.

"Mardon, within the hour you will depart for number three sphere where
the Western Council awaits you--and may grace and strength go with you
all," she added solemnly.

The three bowed to the Council, and turning passed down the passage
between the silent throng that rose in their honour.

Outside the hall as the doors closed behind them Davos and Marnia
hurried to meet the three in the hope that they would pass the evening
with them. Mardon excused himself, pleading the order for his
immediate departure.

"But you will come with us, Andax," begged Marnia.

He shook his head and came as near to laughter as Andax ever came.
"No, Marnia, No. You three go and indulge in an orgy of sentiment.
I would spoil it.

"But what will you do?" she asked anxiously. "Go back to my fish, dear
lady," and he went.




CHAPTER I


BRYCE brought his car to a stop in front of the deep verandah of the
homestead, and, before getting out, let his eyes search the vivid
green of the vines for the owner. The day was savagely hot, and the
sun, striking down from the cloudless blue-white sky, seemed to have
brought all life and motion to a standstill. There was no sign of
Dundas amongst the green sea of foliage. Now and then a dust devil
whirled up a handful of dried grass and leaves, but seemed too tired
to do more.

Bryce strolled to the end of the verandah and peered through the
leaves of the trellised vine that shaded it. Some 200 yards away, in a
slight hollow, he noticed a large pile of dusty red clay that added a
new note to the yellow colour scheme. Even as he watched he caught a
momentary flash of steel above the clay, and at the same instant there
was a fleeting glimpse of the crown of a Panama hat. "Great Scott!" he
murmured. "Mad--mad as a hatter." He turned rapidly off the verandah,
and approached the spot unheard and unseen, and watched for a few
moments without a word. The man in the trench had his back turned to
Bryce. He was stripped to singlet and blue dungaree trousers, which
clung to the figure dripping with perspiration.

"Alan, old chap, what is it? Gentle exercise on an empty stomach, eh?"
The pick came down with an extra thump, and the worker turned with a
smile. "Bryce! By the powers!" Then with a laugh: "I'll own up to the
empty stomach," and, holding out a strong brown hand, he said: "You'll
stop to lunch, old man?" Bryce nodded. "Might take the cheek out of
you if I say that was partly my reason for calling in." Dundas only
grinned; he knew just how much of the remark was in earnest. "I am
very sorry, Hector, but I am 'batching' it again, so it's only a
scratch feed."

"You unfortunate young beggar; what's become of the last housekeeper?
Thought she was a fixture. Not eloped, I hope?" They had turned
towards the house. "Wish to glory she had," was Alan's heartfelt
comment. "Upon my word, Bryce, I'm sick of women. I mean the
housekeeping ones. When they are cold enough to be suitable for young
unattached bachelors, and have settled characters, those characters
are devilish bad. The last beauty went on a gorgeous jamboree for four
days. I don't even know now where she got the joy-producer."

"Well?" queried Bryce, with some interest, as Dundas paused.

"Oh, nothing much. I just waited until she was pretty sober. Loaded
her and her outfit into the dogcart, and by Jove," with a reminiscent
chuckle, "she was properly sober when I got to the township and
consigned her to Melbourne. Billy B.B. was in topping good form, and
tried to climb trees on the way in."

"But, Dun, this is all very well," said Bryce, laughing. "You can't go
on 'batching'. You must get another."

"No, I'm hanged if I do. The old 'uns are rotters, and, save me,
Hector, what meat for the cats in the district if I took a young one."

"I'm afraid it would take more than me to save you if you did," said
Bryce, laughing at the idea.

They had reached the house. Dundas ushered his friend in. "You make
yourself comfy here while I straighten myself, and look after the
tucker."

Bryce stretched himself on the cane lounge, and glanced round the room.
It was a room he knew well. The largest of four that had formed the
homestead that had originally been built as an out-station, when the
township of Glen Cairn had got its name from the original holding, long
since cut up. It was essentially a man's room, without a single feminine
touch. Over the high wooden mantel were racked a fine double-barrelled
breechloader and a light sporting rifle, and the care with which they
were kept showed that they were not there as ornaments.

The walls held only three pictures. Over the cupboard that acted as a
sideboard hung a fine photogravure of Delaroche's "Napoleon,"
meditating on his abdication, and the other two were landscapes that
had come from Alan's old home. From the same source, too, had come the
curious array of Oriental knives that filled the space between the
door and the window. What, however, attracted most attention was the
collection of books that filled the greater part of two sides of the
room, their shelves reaching almost to the low ceiling.

The furniture was simplicity itself. Besides the sideboard, there were
a table and three chairs, with an armchair on each side of the
fireplace. The cane lounge on which Bryce was seated completed the
inventory. Above the lounge on a special shelf by itself was a violin
in its case. To a woman, the uncurtained windows and bare floor would
have been intolerable, but the housekeeping man had discovered that
bare essentials meant the least work.

Presently a voice came from the kitchen. "Hector, old man, there's a
domestic calamity. Flies have established a protectorate over the
mutton, so it's got to be bacon and eggs, and fried potatoes. How many
eggs can you manage?"

"Make it two, Dun; I'm hungry," answered Bryce.

"Man, you don't know the meaning of the word if two will be enough."
Five minutes later he appeared with a cloth over his shoulder and his
arms full of crockery.

A thought of his wife's horror at such simplicity flashed through
Bryce's mind. "You're a luxurious animal, Alan, using a table cloth.
Why, I don't know any of the other fellows who indulge in such
elegance. Or am I to feel specially honoured?"

"No, Bryce; the fact is that I know that a man is apt to become slack
living bachelor fashion," returned Dundas seriously, "so I make it a
rule always to use a table cloth, and, moreover," he went on, as if
recounting the magnificent ceremonial of a regal menage, "I never sit
down to a meal in my shirt sleeves. Oh, Lord! the potatoes!"

With two dishes nicely balanced, Dundas arrived back again, and after
another journey for a mighty teapot, he called Bryce up to the table.
To an epicure, bacon and eggs backed by fried potatoes, for a midday
meal with the thermometer at 112 deg. in the shade, may sound a little
startling, but then, epicures rarely work, and the matter is beyond
their comprehension. Bryce stared at the large dish with upraised
hands. "Man, what have you done? I asked for two."

"Dinna fash yersel', laddie," answered Dundas mildly. "I've been
heaving the pick in that hole since 7 o'clock this morning, and it
makes one peckish. The other six are for my noble self. Does it occur
to you, Bryce, that had I not scrapped an unpromising career at the
bar, I might also have regarded this meal as a carefully studied
attempt at suicide?"

"Humph! perhaps--I believe you did the best thing though, and I own up
that I thought you demented then."

"Lord! How the heathen did rage."

"True. But don't you ever regret or feel lonely?"

"Nary a regret, and as far as for the loneliness, I rather like it.
That reminds me. I had George MacArthur out here for a week lately. He
said he wanted the simple life, so I put him hoeing vines. More tea?
No? Then, gentlemen, you may smoke." Dundas reached for a pipe from
beneath the mantel, and then swung himself into an armchair, while
Bryce returned to the comfort of the creaking lounge.

"By the way, Alan," said Bryce, pricking his cigar with scientific
care, "you haven't told me the object of your insane energy in that
condemned clayhole." Dundas was eyeing the cigar with disfavour. "I
can't understand a man smoking those things when he can get a good
honest pipe. Oh, all right, I don't want to start a wrangle. About the
condemned clayhole. Well, the fool who built this mansion of mine
built it half a mile from the river, and that means that in summer I
must either take the water to the horses or the horses to the water,
and both operations are a dashed nuisance. Now observe. That condemned
clayhole is to be ultimately an excellent waterhole that will save me
a deuce of a lot of trouble. Therefore, as Miss Carilona Wilhelmina
Amelia Skeggs so elegantly puts it, you found me 'all a muck of
sweat.'"

"Yes, but my dear chap, you can afford to get it done for you."

"In a way you are right, Hec, but then I can't afford to pay a man to
do work that I can do myself."

"Don't blame you, Alan." Then, after a pause, and watching him keenly:
"Why don't you get married?"

Dundas jerked himself straight in his chair, the lighted match still
in his fingers. "Great Scott, Bryce! What's that got to do with
waterholes?" The utter irrelevance of the question made Bryce laugh.
"Nothing, old chap--nothing. Only it just came to my mind as I was
lying here." Lying was a good word, had Dundas only known. "You know,"
he went on, "there are plenty of nice girls in the district."

"You are not suggesting polygamy, by any chance?" countered Alan
serenely from his chair, having recovered from the shock of the
unexpected question.

"Don't be an ass, Alan. I only suggested a good thing for yourself."

"Can't you see the force of your argument, Hector, that because there
are plenty of nice girls in the district (I'll admit that) I should
marry one of them."

"You might do a dashed sight worse."

"You mean I mightn't marry her?"

"You Rabelaisian young devil! I'll shy something at you in a minute if
you don't talk sense."

"Well, look. If you want reasons I'll give you some. First, for the
same reason that I cannot afford a pumping plant. Now do shut up and
let me speak. I know the gag about what will keep one keeping two.
It's all tosh. Secondly, I wouldn't ask any nice girl to live in this
solitude, even if she were willing. Third--do you want any more? Well,
if I got married I would have to extend and rebuild this place." Then
he quietened down, and said seriously, "I know what you mean, Hector;
but those," pointing to the books, "are all the wife I want just now."

Bryce smiled. "By jove, Alan, who's talking polygamy now? There are
about six hundred of them."

"Oh!" answered Alan serenely. "I'm only really married to about six of
them. All the rest are merely 'porcupines,' as the Sunday school kid
said."

"Alan, my son, I'll really have to consult the Reverend John Harvey
Pook about your morals, and get him to come and discourse with you."

"Lord forbid!" said Dundas piously. "That reminds me. I told you I had
George MacArthur here for a week, living the simple life. Well, he was
never out of his pyjamas from the day he arrived till the day he left.
However, one afternoon while I was taking the horses to water, who
should arrive but the Reverend John Harvey and Mamma and Bella Pook,
hunting for a subscription for a tea-fight of some sort. Anyhow when I
got back the noble George was giving them afternoon tea on the
verandah. Just apologised for being found in evening dress in the day
time."

"Humph!" commented Bryce, "did Pook get anything?"

"Well, I paid a guinea just to get rid of them. George was making the
pace too hot," replied Dundas. "Pook nearly fell over himself when
George came to light with a tenner."

Bryce smoked a few minutes, watching Alan through the cloud. "Why did
you get MacArthur down here?" Dundas, who had been gazing off through
the window, spoke without turning his head. "Oh, various reasons. You
know I like him immensely in spite of his idiosyncrasies. He's no end
of a good sort. It's not his fault that he has more thousands a year
than most men have fifties. He lived a godly, upright, and sober life
the week he was here. Pity he doesn't take up a hobby of some sort--
books or art collecting or something of the kind."

"I'm afraid an old master is less in his line than a young mistress,"
said Bryce sourly.

Dundas looked around, wide-eyed. "Jove, Hector, that remark sounds
almost feminine."

Bryce chuckled. "You must have a queer set of lady friends if that's
the way they talk."

"Oh, you owl! I meant the spirit and not the letter. Anyhow, what's
MacArthur been doing to get on your nerves? You are not usually nasty
for nothing."

"You've not seen him since he left?"

"No, I've not been near Glen Cairn or the delights of the club. Been
too busy. Anyhow, you don't usually take notice of the district
scandal either."

Bryce stared thoughtfully at the ash of the cigar he turned in his
fingers. "Well, if you will have it. Here are the facts, the alleged
facts, club gossip, tennis-court gossip, also information collected by
Doris. The night after he left you, George MacArthur filled himself
with assorted liquors. Went down with a few friends to the Star and
Garter (why the deuce he didn't stay at the club I don't know). He
made a throne in one of the sitting-rooms, by placing a chair on the
table. On the throne he seated a barmaid--I'm told it was the fat one
(Perhaps you can recognise her from the description). Then he removed
a leg from another chair and gave it to her as a sceptre. I believe,
although statements differ, he made them hail her as the chaste
goddess Diana. Rickardson tells me that, as a temporary revival of
paganism, it was a huge success."

Alan's frown deepened as the recital went on. "Bryce, how much of the
yarn is true? You know the value of the confounded gossip of the
town."

"I've given you the accepted version," said Bryce slowly.

Alan, still staring through the window, said, a little bitterly, "I
suppose the verdict is Guilty? No trial, as usual."

"The evidence is fairly conclusive in this case," answered Bryce. He
was watching Dundas keenly. Then he went on, in a slow, even voice, "I
saw Marian Seymour cut him dead yesterday." Then only he turned his
eyes away as Alan swung round. For a moment he made as if to speak,
but thought better of it.

Bryce heaved himself out of his lounge. "Well, Alan, we won't mend the
morals of the community by talking about them. You'll come over to
dinner on Sunday, of course?"

Alan stood up. "Jove, Hector, that will be something to look forward
to. Tell Mistress Doris I'll bring along my best appetite."

Bryce laughed. "If I tell of your performance on the eggs to-day I'd
better forget that part of the message. You had better break the news
of the calamity yourself. Phew! What a devil of a day! Surely you
won't go back to that infernal work?"

"You bet I do! I've taken twice my usual lunch time in your honour.
Aren't you afraid some of the gilded youths on your staff will do a
bunk with the bank's reserve cash if you are not there to sit on it?"

"Not one of 'em has as the bowels to do a bunk, as you so prettily put
it, with a stale bun. You can thank your neighbour, Denis McCarthy,
for this infliction. I had to pay him a visit."

"Humph! It's about the only thing I've ever had occasion to feel
genuinely thankful to him for. You found him beastly sober, as usual?"

"Well," said Bryce grimly, "I found him beastly and I left him sober.
Yes, very sober. Thank goodness that finishes the last of my
predecessor's errors in judgment." He stooped to crank up his car.
"Goodbye, Alan; don't overdo it." He backed and turned in the narrow
drive before the verandah, while Dundas stood and made caustic
comments on the steering in particular and motor cars in general. The
last he heard was a wild threat of "having the law agin' him" if he
broke so much as a single vine-cane.




CHAPTER II


IN a long white robe before the mirror of her dressing table Doris
Bryce stood flashing a silver-backed brush through her long, thick
hair. Her lord and alleged master had already reached the stage of
peace and pyjamas, and was lying with his head already pillowed. There
was rather more than the shadow of a frown on the comely face of
Doris, which, Bryce, wise in his knowledge of his wife, affected not
to see. There had been a few minute's silence, during which Doris had
tried to decide for herself whether she had heard aright or not.

At last! "You really said that, Hec?"

"Yes. What difference does it make?"

"You mean to tell me you asked Alan why he didn't get married?"

"Well, I didn't ask any questions. I merely suggested that he ought
to."

"Well!" said his wife, pulling a fresh handful of hair over her
shoulders. "All I've got to say is that you are an absolute donkey."

"My dear girl!"

"Suppose you were fishing, and I came and threw stones beside your
line?"

Said Hector soothingly: "I might say, dear, that your action was
ill-advised." A slight shrug of her shoulders showed him that his
correction was not being received in a spirit of wifely submission.
"You must remember," he went on, "that I stand 'in loco parentis.'"
"'In loco grandmother.'" Doris had put down her brush, and commenced
to plait one side of her hair. "Well, if you like it better, 'in loco
grand-parentis.' My Latin has got a bit rusty; anyhow, I can't see for
the life of me what difference it makes."

Doris disdained to answer. "Perhaps," she asked coldly, "you can
remember what he said to your beautiful suggestion?"

Bryce eyed her in silence for some moments, calculating how far he
might risk a jest. From experience he knew the cost of miscalculation.
"I must confess," he ventured, "that his answer came as a shock. Alan
owned up that he was already married." His voice had a nicely-toned
seriousness.

"Hector!" Her arms dropped. "You don't mean to say--" Words failed
her.

"Yes, my dear. About six wives, he was not quite sure, and several
hundred porcupines. A regular young Solomon."

There was a look in Doris's eyes as she turned away that made Bryce
feel that he had rather overdone it. "I think I have told you before
that I do not want to hear any of the club jokes. I suppose that is
meant for one." Her voice was anything but reassuring. "Perhaps you
will tell me what you mean."

"Well to tell the truth, Doris, he didn't seem to take kindly to the
idea."

"Not likely when it was pelted at him like that," was his wife's
comment. She stared at her reflection thoughtfully. "He will come in
to dinner on Sunday, I hope?"

"Yes, of course," answered Bryce, pleased to be able to give one
answer that might mollify a somewhat irritated wife.

"Ah, well, I have invited Marian Seymour to dinner on Sunday as well.
I told her you would drive out and bring her in in the car."

"Good idea, Doris. It will be bright moonlight in the evening, and we
can go for a spin after we take her home."

Doris, who had stooped to remove her shoe, straightened up, and looked
at him helplessly. "Good heavens! What a man! To think I'm married to
it!" She turned up her eyes as though imploring heavenly guidance in
her affliction. "Hector, if I thought there was the remotest
possibility of your suggesting driving her home, I should most
certainly jab your tyres full of holes. It's beyond my comprehension.
They say you are the cleverest business man in the district, but in
ordinary matters of domestic common sense you are just hopeless."

"Now, what in the name of all that's wonderful have I said?" asked the
injured man, groping for light.

"Must I put it into plain cold English?"

"Well, my good woman--"

"For goodness' sake, Hector, don't say 'good woman.' You know I hate
it."

He did know, as a matter of fact, and that is why perhaps, he used the
expression. "Well, Doris, may I ask you to be a little less complex?"

"A little less complex! Instruction for the young!" she said bitingly.
"Alan Dundas will drive in to dinner on Sunday. Marian Seymour will be
driven in by you to have dinner with us on Sunday. Do you follow that
much?"

"I have already absorbed those two ideas," said Bryce mildly.

"Well, as you have already remarked, it will be bright moonlight when
it is time for them to go home. Your car will have something wrong
with it's engine--"

"But, my dear, it hasn't anything wrong."

"It had better have then."

Bryce hastily remarked something about sparking plugs.

"Then, as I said, your car will not be fit to take Marian home in, so
it will be necessary for Alan Dundas to drive Marian Seymour home, a
distance of five miles--in fact, nearly six--in the moonlight, and,"
she concluded, "I know the seat of Alan's dog-cart is not very
spacious for two. Perhaps you see now?" and she tossed her head
disdainfully.

Bryce spoke slowly. "And Alan called me a Machiavelli! Good Lord!
Well, as you please. These manifestations are beyond me."

That afternoon Dundas watched the dust of Bryce's car until it died
away along the track, and after setting his domestic affairs in order
returned to his "condemned clayhole." For some time he stood on the
edge of the excavation staring thoughtfully into it, but in spite of
appearances, his thoughts were far from pick and shovel. Had Doris
Bryce only known, she need not have condemned her long-suffering man
on her own somewhat biassed and self-satisfied feminine judgment, for
Hector's sledge-hammer diplomacy had undoubtedly given the owner of
'Cootamundra' an unexpected mental jolt that for the time being had
left the smooth running of his thoughts somewhat out of gear.

For a long ten minutes Alan stood and stared, then pulling himself
together abruptly he scrambled down, and drawing his pick from its
cover began to make up for lost time. He worked himself mercilessly in
spite of the breathless, sweltering heat.

The greater part of the afternoon had gone before he paused, after
clearing up the bottom, to survey the result of his labour with
pardonable satisfaction, and he estimated that a couple of weeks'
clear work would see his property the better for a serviceable
waterhole. Then, taking up his pick, he struck heavily at a spot on
the face some two feet below the surface level. The result of the blow
was both unexpected and disconcerting. Hard as the clay was, and
braced as his muscles were for the stroke, the jar that followed made
his nerves tingle to the shoulder. The pick brought up with a loud,
clear ring, while two inches of its tempered point and a fragment of
clay flew off at a tangent and struck his foot. Alan swore softly, but
sincerely. He picked up the broken point and examined it critically.
Then he stooped and inspected the spot where the blow had taken
effect. Then he swore again wholeheartedly. "Rock, and I suppose the
only rock on the whole dashed place, and I've found it." However, he
was not the sort to waste his time in growling, so set to work
carefully and scientifically to discover the extent of the obstacle,
and the longer he worked the more puzzled he became.

His usual stopping hour passed. The shadows of the trees and homestead
grew to gigantic lengths and grotesque shapes, but the rim of the sun
was touching the distant timber belt before he finally flung down his
tools.

In the fading light of the evening, Dundas strolled back to the hole
again. He had hurried over a meal that he usually took at his leisure.
He had brought with him a cold chisel and a heavy hammer, and after
throwing off his coat he jumped into the excavation. There was just
enough light for his work, and he selected a spot for an attack.
Holding the chisel carefully against the uncovered rock, he brought
the hammer down on it again and again with smashing force, bringing a
flash of sparks with every blow, until at last a corner of the tool's
edge snapped with a ring, and whirred into the dusk like a bullet.
Alan examined the dulled and broken edge with a frown, and then peered
at the spot on which he had been striking. The stone showed neither
chip nor mark. Not the faintest scratch appeared on the hard
glass-smooth face after a battering that would have scored and dented a
steel plate. Just as wise as when he started his investigation, he
returned the ruined chisel and hammer to the tool shed, and went back
to the house.

The book Dundas selected lay on his lap unopened for half an hour. The
pipe he lit hung between his lips, cold after a few pulls, and he
stared into the dark through the open window. Finally he pulled
himself together and sat up.

At last he stopped, at peace with himself and the world. Close beside
him and just where the light fell from the open window, a vine shoot
from the verandah had sent down a tendril, and along the tendril,
doubtless attracted by the light, appeared, cautiously feeling its
way, a fat black vine caterpillar. The insect arrived at the end of
the tendril and reared up as if seeking assistance to continue its
journey. Dundas watched it idly. With absurd persistence it reached
from side to side into space. Then, speaking half aloud, (habit formed
of his solitary life), he addressed his visitor.

"My friend, can you tell me this? I have to-day broken up ground that
I am absolutely sure has never been broken before, and yet below the
surface I have come on rock that is not rock. It is a rock that I am
prepared to stake my life on came out of a human workshops and not
nature's. Perhaps you can tell me how that human handiwork comes to be
embedded in virgin soil that has never been stirred since time began.
No, Mr. Caterpillar, the smoothness of that rock, which is not a rock,
does not come from the action of water. I thought so myself at first.
No, and again, no. It is human work, and how did it get there? Give it
up? Well, so do I--for the present. I'm off to bed, old chap, and I'm
very much obliged for your intelligent attention."

Ten minutes later darkness and silence held the homestead.




CHAPTER III


NEXT morning Alan Dundas returned to his work with an interest he had
never known before.

When he had stopped the night before, he had uncovered about two
square yards of the obstacle that had broken first his pick and then
his cold chisel. In colour it was a dull red, not unlike red granite,
but without a trace of "grain." The surface was as smooth as glass,
but it was the indication of a symmetrical shape that puzzled Dundas
most. Where he had cut away the clay low down in the hole the rock
sprang perpendicularly from the ground for about two feet, then from a
clean, perfectly defined line it came away to form a dome. Of that he
could make no mistake. Running his eye over the uncovered space, he
estimated roughly that, supposing the lines continued as they
appeared, he had unearthed the edge of a cylindrical construction,
terminated by an almost flat dome, of some twenty-five to thirty feet
in diameter. How far down the foundations might go he could not even
hazard a guess.

So, filled with curiosity, he set to work, and as the hours passed the
original idea of tank-sinking fled, and he worked solely to solve the
mystery he had unearthed. The course he had to follow took his trench
across the boundary he had first marked out, but as he worked surmise
became fact. The boast he had made the day before was forgotten, and
he ate his midday meal standing in his kitchen, and washed it down
with a drink from his water-bag. By evening he surveyed the results of
his day's work, the most perplexed man in Christendom. To follow the
course of what, for want of a better name, he called the rock, he had
cut around the segment of a circle of about the size of his original
estimate for about twenty feet. He had made his cut about three feet
wide and shoulder deep, and all round he had found the clean cut line
of the spring of the flat dome as clearly defined as if it had been
moulded, and every inch he had uncovered strengthened his first idea
that the work was from human hands. So far as he had examined it he
was absolutely at a loss to account for its purpose. It was like
nothing he had ever seen or heard of, and moreover again and again
came back the certainty that the surface of the soil had been hitherto
unbroken.

For a while he considered whether he should catch Billy Blue Blazes
and drive into Glen Cairn to talk the matter over with Bryce, but the
mystery had eaten into his soul, and in the end he determined at all
costs to solve it for himself. When he had arrived at this resolution
he felt a keen satisfaction in the thought that his place was so far
removed from the beaten track.

It was not until late in the afternoon of the following day when the
strain of the past few days was beginning to tell on his energy, that
he came on the first break in the wall, and it so far revived his
spirits that he redoubled his efforts until he had assured himself
that the break he had come upon was the top of an arched doorway.
There could be no possible doubt of that, and when he had satisfied
himself on the point he set to work, tired and aching as he was, to
fill in enough earth all round his trench to hide as far as possible
all indications of the construction. He felt certain that the solution
of the problem would come from within, and he left only enough
uncovered to enable him to have easy access to the newly discovered
doorway.

Eight hours of dreamless sleep banished every ache. The morning was
yet very young when Alan swung his dogcart into the main street of
Glen Cairn, and Billy stopped, with his forefeet in the air, before
the principal store in the town. There Dundas gave orders for timber
and galvanised iron. Would it be out that day? And swag-bellied
Gaynor, the storekeeper, swore that Mr. Dundas's order would take
precedence over all other in the matter of delivery.

Then it struck him that by driving a few miles off his homeward track
he might see someone more interesting--that is, by accident.

Man proposes. Alan drove home by the long way. He irritated Billy by
pulling him into as slow a pace as that bundle of nerves and springs
ever assented to, but neither down the long hedged lane, nor in the
curving oak-arched drive, nor yet about the white house half buried in
the trees, was there any flutter of skirt or sign of her whom he
sought. He was not good at fibbing, and, trying his best, he could not
invent a reasonably passable excuse for a call.

And so home, all the time turning things over in his mind, till Marian
Seymour first receded to the background of his thoughts and then
disappeared altogether, and It took her place. "It." After days of
racking toil he could find no other name for his discovery than "It."
At times there flashed across his mind that there might be some simple
and rational explanation for "It," and with the thought came a sense
of disappointment and depression. The feeling soon vanished, however,
under analysis. Every sense of his being told him that he stood on the
verge of the unknown.

When he reached 'Cootamundra' he attended to Billy's requirements, and
then sought means to pass the time until the arrival of his material
from Glen Cairn.

Unconsciously his feet carried him back to the excavation, and he
smiled grimly at its appearance. Its original symmetrical shape had
vanished. Its apparently objectless outlines and the patent fact that
it had been partially refilled made it look as an effort at tank
sinking about as mad as some of his theories.

Although he was itching to recommence his explorations, he had to
possess his soul in patience, and it was long after noon before
Gaynor's team arrived bearing the material he had ordered. Alan had
the cart unloaded well away from the scene of his labours. He was
taking no risks, although he felt sure that the driver's one idea
would be to make his delivery and get away.

It was no light task that he had set himself. To make up for his
enforced idleness of the morning he worked until the fading light made
it impossible for him to continue. He had to admit to himself that as
architecture the framework he had erected was beneath contempt, while
a carpenter's apprentice would have snorted at his workmanship; but if
it lacked all else it had strength, and would serve its purpose.

Next morning saw him working with beaver-like persistence.

But, in spite of damaged and blistered hands and raw-edged temper, the
work advanced. When evening came his persistence was rewarded by an
almost completed enclosure ten feet high, surrounding the spot where
he had been excavating. Raw it looked, and a blot on the not too
beautiful landscape, but he felt that it would serve his purpose.
Another day would see it roofed and completed, and then not even the
most curious visitor, known or unknown, would have sufficient
curiosity to investigate what was to all appearances, nothing but a
shed for storing implements or fodder.

Alan felt at the day's end that Sunday's rest, if nothing else, was a
justification for Christianity. When he finally put away his tools and
tramped wearily to the empty house, he told himself that until Monday
morning he would empty his head of every thought of work.




CHAPTER IV


DUNDAS woke late and care-free. It was ten o'clock before he had
finished his leisurely breakfast, and captured and groomed Billy. Then
he turned his attention to his toilet. To a man with a regard for the
decencies of life, there was a deep sense of satisfaction in
discarding his serviceable but unpleasantly rough working garb for
more conventional clothing.

Truly clothes maketh the man. Few would have recognised in the
smart figure, clothed in spotless white from head to foot, the
dungaree and flannel clad man of yesterday. As he stepped into his
dogcart that morning, nineteen women out of twenty would have found
Alan Dundas a man to look at more than once, although they might
pretend they had never noticed him, as is their way.

Billy Blue Blazes made his own pace on the road to Glen Cairn, a
privilege he was rarely granted, and made the most of it. Two miles
out of the township Alan met Bryce in his car on his way to bring in
the other visitor. The two exchanged hasty greetings as Billy clawed
the air, and expressed his opinion on mechanical traction in
unmistakable fashion. So, after stabling at the club, it was Doris
alone who greeted Alan at the bank. And Doris, when she looked at him,
said in her heart that her work would be good.

From her deck chair on the verandah she chaffed him for a hermit. "I
suppose, Mistress Doris, that wretched man of yours has been telling
tales of my menage. You know he had lunch with me last week."

"Of course, Alan, he told me that you were starving yourself, poor
boy. I do hope that you have recovered your appetite."

"The traitor! He said he would do nothing to warn you of the impending
catastrophe. Well, if he has to go without on my account, serve him
right."

There came the hoot of a motor-horn from the street. "There's Hector
now; he went out to bring us in another guest, Alan--guess?"

"I'm too lazy and contented for a mental effort." Then, after a pause,
"MacArthur?"

Doris made a sound that approached a dainty sniff. "I'm not playing
speaks with Mr. MacArthur," she said, a little stiffly.

"You might do worse, Mistress Doris. Give him a chance."

There came a sound of voices from the garden, and they both stood up.
"Come on, Maid Marian. We'll find them on the verandah." Then the
others turned the corner. Bryce greeted Alan heartily, and then turned
to the girl beside him. "I've brought you a judge, jury, and
executioner, Dundas. I hear you have been guilty of treason,
desertion, and a few other trifling offences. It's currently reported
that you were squared by the Ronga Club not to play yesterday."

Alan took the warm firm hand held out to him. "I've been executed
already by Mistress Doris, Miss Seymour, you can't punish me twice for
the same offence." The girl smiled as she took the chair he drew up
for her. "Luckily we pulled through without you. What excuse have
you?"

"Only Eve's legacy--work," he answered.

"Doris dear," said Marian, "is not the excuse as bad as the offence? A
nasty slur on our sex by inference and a claim to the right to work
when we want him to play."

Then, standing up: "Guilty on all counts, and remanded for sentence--
until I can think of something sufficiently unpleasant to fit the
crime."

"Then I can only throw myself on the mercy of the court. Make it a
free pardon, Miss Seymour," said Dundas, laughing.

She regarded him with laughing eyes, and then turned to Doris. "I
doubt if severity will have any lasting effect in this case. Perhaps
if we extend the clemency of the court--" Then to Dundas: "Case
dismissed. I hope you will not appear here again. Isn't that what
father says on the bench?"

Bryce chuckled. "A disgraceful miscarriage of justice. That's what it
amounts to. Coming in, Doris, nothing but his bleeding scalp would
satisfy her. Now he is pardoned. It's too thick."

"Out of your own mouth, Bryce," said Alan, "a free pardon was the
right course. The quality of mercy is not strained. Why? Because it's
too thick."

Doris stood up. "Come and take off your hat, Marian. A constant diet
of eggs has affected his mind. He's absolutely unworthy of notice."

Left to themselves Bryce and Alan settled down to a yarn that drifted
from politics to town and district news, and thence to the absorbing
topic of vines and crops. "How grows the waterhole?" asked Bryce after
a while. Dundas was waiting for the question, and with elaborate
carelessness answered briefly that he had struck rock and abandoned
it. "I am building a fodder-house on the site as a monument to my
displaced energy," he went on. "I was so busy with the building that I
missed coming in to town yesterday."

Bryce shook his head. "You'll overdo it, Dun."

"Hector and Alan." It was Doris's voice. "If you want any dinner you
had better come now."

It was afterwards when they were at peace with the world, the one with
a pipe and the other with a cigar, that Alan put the question that he
had been quietly manoeuvring for.

"Can you tell me, Hec, if at any time there has been any big building
work done at 'Cootamundra,' or even started?"

 Bryce reflected for a few moments. "I've known 'Cootamundra' now for
nearly forty years, and I'm certain that, beyond the present
buildings, nothing of the kind has ever been done there. Why ask?"

"Oh, nothing much," answered Dundas, fibbing carefully. "Now and again
I thought I noticed traces of foundations about the place near the
house."

And so the talk drifted lazily off into other channels until they were
rejoined by Doris and Marian.

It was the strange behaviour of his wife that occupied Bryce's
attention for the rest of the day, to the exclusion of all else. As an
onlooker he thought he should have seen most of the game, and knowing
the rules, or thinking he did, it was, he found, a game that he did
not understand. When Marian came on the scene he prepared cheerfully
to give Dundas a clear field, but to his surprise he found that every
attempt was neatly foiled by his erratic spouse.

Thereafter he watched her manoeuvres with amused astonishment. It was
apparent to the densest understanding that both Alan and Marian would
have welcomed each other's society undiluted, and Bryce enjoyed to the
utmost Alan's diplomatic but persistent efforts to "shoo" off his too
attentive hostess, and her apparently unconscious disregard for his
efforts.

In the end it came as a relief to be able to announce a wholly
fictitious trouble with the engine of his car that threw on Alan the
responsibility of delivering Marian safely at her home. It was nearly
ten o'clock when Dundas brought the snorting Billy B.B. to the door of
Bryce's quarters at the bank, and Marian made her hasty farewells, for
Billy was never in a mood on a homeward journey to stand on four legs
for two consecutive seconds.

The two watched the receding lights of the dogcart for a few minutes,
and then returned to the house. Doris began to straighten some music
that was lying about, while Bryce, leaning back in an easy chair,
watched her thoughtfully. Presently she appeared to be aware of his
scrutiny. "What's on your mind, Hec?" she asked.

"It's not what's on my mind, best beloved; it's what's in yours that
is making me thoughtful," answered her husband.

Doris returned the music to its place, and sank into a chair, while
Bryce, after placing a cushion for her head, took his stand in front
of her, feet apart, hands in pockets. "Now, my lady, I want
explanations; lots of 'em."

Doris looked up at him with a slow reminiscent smile that ended in a
little gurgle. "Aren't they lovely, Hec? The dears! I'm sure Alan
would have liked to shake me. Don't you think so?"

"By Jove, Doris, I wonder at his self-control! Now, listen." Here he
shook an admonitory finger. "If you don't immediately explain your
scandalous conduct, I'll act as Alan's deputy, and shake you till you
do."

"Violence is quite unnecessary, Hec," she laughed softly. "You know it
struck me this morning, that if I left them together Alan would just
take things easily, and let them drift. You know I'm not altogether
sure of Alan." Here she paused thoughtfully.

"And so?" persisted Bryce.

"And so," she went on, "I just teased them by not giving them a
chance, because, well, suppose you dangle something a child wants just
out of its reach, and then suddenly rest for a moment, the
probabilities are that the child will grab when it gets the chance."
Another pause.

"And you mean?" asked Hector with dawning comprehension.

"Well, there is a tantalised nice man, and a specially nice girl, and
a narrow-seated dogcart, and a wonderful moon, and if the man doesn't
grab--well, I don't know anything. Oh, you monster!"

Bryce's arms had swept outwards and gathered her in with one heave of
his shoulders. "Oh, Hec, do let me down." He backed to his armchair,
still holding her firmly until her struggles ceased. "Will you be
good?" he asked. "Good as gold," she answered, with her head on his
shoulder.

"It's my opinion, Doris, that you are a scandalous little schemer.
Great Scott! What chance has a man against that sort of thing?"

"Do you think it will work, Hec?" passing her hand round his neck.

"Maybe--it won't be your fault if it doesn't, you imp! The only thing
against it is that you forgot Billy. He is a straight-forward little
animal, whatever may be said against him, and I doubt if he will
permit his owner to become a victim of your conspiracy."

"Hum--dear boy--it would take wilder horses than Billy to stop a man
if he really meant business."

"Look here, Doris, I want to know, are we all treated like this? Are
you and your kind really the destiny that shapes our matrimonial ends?
You know it makes one nervous. I never dreamed of such depths of
duplicity. What about me, for instance?"

She looked at him with shining eyes, and smiled softly. "Oh--you--
well, Hec, special cases require special treatment. I've read
somewhere that natives when they want to get certain very shy birds,
just do something that will attract their attention and their
curiosity. Then, when the bird comes to see what it is, they just put
out their hands and take it. That is, if the bird is worth taking."

"So--I see--I see--I don't seem to recollect any tactics of that kind
in our case, Doris, and I'm sure I would have remembered, because I
have read somewhere, too, that the method adopted by the natives is to
lie on their backs and twiddle their toes in the air. Now, if you had
done that--" There was a brief struggle and a soft hand closed over
his mouth, and the rest is of no interest to outsiders.




CHAPTER V


MEANWHILE, way down the long white road between well-ordered vineyards
and scattered homesteads nestling in orchards, sped Marian and Alan
behind the fretting Billy, and with them a silence that neither seemed
inclined to break. There were not many women even in that district of
horse-women who would have sat calmly and care-free beside Dundas,
knowing Billy's reputation. Where a city-bred girl would have clung
with white knuckles to the side-rail, Marian sat with loosely folded
hands, letting her body sway with the swing of the dogcart. Billy's
breaking-in had been peculiar. His forebears had been remarkable more
for speed than for good temper. George MacArthur had acquired him as a
yearling, and under that gentleman's able tuition he had developed
more than one characteristic that made sitting behind him more
exhilarating than safe.

MacArthur, grown tired of buying new dogcarts, sent Billy to the
saleyards, and insisted that the auctioneer should read a guarantee
that described Billy as perfectly sound, and an ideal horse for a
lunatic or anyone contemplating suicide, and it was under this
guarantee that Alan purchased for a couple of sovereigns what had
originally cost MacArthur fifty guineas.

Alan used to say, when asked why he retained Billy, that to get rid of
him would deprive him of the joy of a royal progress. "You have no
idea how polite people are to me when B.B.B. gets moving. I've seen a
dozen vehicles pull off the road the moment I came in sight, and stand
still till I passed them."

Tonight Alan was driving with special care, for his freight was very
precious. He felt, too, a pride in the fact that Marian had trusted
herself to his care without hesitation. It was only when the first
struggle was over, and Billy had settled himself into his real gait,
that he turned to the girl beside him. "Now, he is not so bad as he is
painted, is he?"

Marian laughed. "No horse could be as bad as Billy is painted, not
even Billy himself, but he is splendid!" Then, after a pause, "but I
think it is almost criminal to have spoiled such a horse in the first
place."

"Don't believe it," answered Alan. "I've studied Billy carefully for
three years now, and I'm quite convinced that his habits are a gift.
MacArthur only cultivated them, just as a fine voice is cultivated."
Marian looked straight ahead, and said, "I'll admit that in this
instance he could not have had a more able tutor."

Alan looked round at the calm, disapproving face, and smiled. "Et tu,
Brute," he said, quietly.

She turned quickly. "Do you stand by Mr. MacArthur?"

"Inasmuch as he is my friend, yes; more so now than usual, perhaps."

She turned his answer over in her mind a moment. "Yes, I suppose you
would," she said.

"What does that mean--approval or otherwise?" he asked.

"I only meant that I thought that you would be very loyal to your
friends, right or wrong. But, at the same time, in this instance I
don't agree with you."

"God made him for a man--let him pass. Steady, Billy! That's only a cow."

There was a full and lively thirty seconds until the horse had recovered
from his attack of nerves. Then Marian took up the tale.

"That's all very well, but is it fair, I ask you? Suppose, now, that I
carried on a flirtation with the groom at the Star and Garter, which God
forbid, for methinks he is passing fond of beer. Would your charity
stand the strain?"

Dundas made a mental comparison, and chuckled. "I'd take the strongest
exception to your taste, apart from conventions."

They had turned off the white main road, and the clatter of Billy's
hoofs was muffled in the dust of the unformed track they followed,
that twisted in and out among the big timber. The moon splashed their
path with patches of black and silver, and in the deep hush of night
they moved as through a dream landscape.

Alan spoke slowly. "I laughed, but God knows I did not mean to, Maid
Marian. It is not good to hear you slander yourself, even in jest. To
me the idea was worse than sacrilege." He changed the reins swiftly
over to his right hand, and covered the soft slender hand on her lap
with his. For a moment it shrank timidly and then lay still. For a
little while he held it, and then, bending forward, he raised it to
his lips unresisting. For one instant her eyes met his and told their
secret. "Oh! Marian, Maid Marian," he said softly. Momentous words
were on his lips, but words decreed by fate to remain unuttered in
that hour.

For the moment he had forgotten everything but the girl beside him,
and the right hand relaxed its hold, and as it did a hare darted from
the shadow of a log and flashed under Billy's nose. There came a swift
jerk on the reins, and Alan recovered them in a flash, but too late.

He set his teeth and strained his eyes into the patchy light to catch
the first glimpse of dangers to avoid. Only once he turned to Marian.
The rush of air had swept her hat back on her shoulders, and her hair
was a flying cloud about her face. But in her eyes there was no trace
of fear. "Don't mind me, Alan; I trust you absolutely."

But for her presence he would almost have enjoyed the excitement, but
the thought of danger to her turned his efforts to tightlipped
savageness. He sawed Billy's leathery mouth as he had never done
before, when, to his delight he felt Billy's mad rush falter. For the
first time he had won in a straight-out fight, and though they took
the curve on one wheel, by the time they came in sight of the white
gate in the lane Billy was snorting angrily, but behaving like a
normal animal otherwise.

"I am sorry, so sorry, Marian. That was my fault," he said soberly; "I
should have watched Billy more carefully." The girl turned slightly
and rested her hand lightly on his sleeve. "Please, don't blame
yourself, Alan. I want you to believe me when I tell you that all the
time I felt perfectly safe, and I wouldn't have missed it for
anything."

Alan laughed grimly. "Precious little honour to me that I did. It is
the first time that he has ever given in so soon." He reined Billy to
a standstill at the gate, and as he did so a voice came from the
shadow of the avenue beyond. "Is that you, lassie?" and there was a
glow of a cigar in the darkness "Father!" she whispered. Then aloud,
"Yes, father, Mr. Dundas has brought me home." The owner of the voice
came forward into the light. "Oh! Dundas, come in, it's not too late
for a glass of wine." Billy stirred uneasily and backed a little. "I'm
afraid I cannot to-night. B.B.B. does not approve of late hours." He
pressed Marian's hand tenderly as she rose. "Good night, Maid Marian,"
he said softly. "Good night, Alan. Oh! be careful going home," came
the whispered answer. In a second she had jumped lightly to the
ground. Billy half turned, and bored at the reins fretfully. Standing
where the light fell full on her face, Marian looked up at him
smiling. "Good night, Mr. Dundas, and thank you so much for the
drive." Alan waved his hand as the dogcart turned with a jerk, and the
next moment he was pelting down the lane homeward. Marian stood beside
her father watching the two twinkling red stars as they disappeared in
the distance. "Now that," said her father, "is a man, but I'm blessed
if I like the horse. How did he behave on the way?" Marian slipped her
arm round his shoulder, and looked up laughing. "If you will tell me
whether you are referring to the man or the horse, I might be able to
answer," she said. "Oh, lassie!" he said, taking her hand, and looking
down at her fondly, "I think I'll inquire about both." Marian drew his
head down and kissed him. "Daddy dear, as a judge of men and horses, I
can honestly say that neither could have behaved better." Which, when
one considers it, was a truly feminine answer. Nevertheless, she lay
awake that night smiling happily with her thoughts.

Fortunately for Alan, Billy's performance had taken the edge off his
appetite for bolting that night at least, for with his thoughts in a
state of chaos he paid little attention to either road or horse. That
one glimpse of Marian's eyes as he had raised her hand to his lips had
been a revelation, and he knew, although no word had passed between
them, that he had awakened in her the love that until then he had
known nothing of, and the wonder of it held him spellbound.

He spent a longer time than usual rubbing Billy down after his arrival
at 'Cootamundra,' and when he had finished he brought his hand down
with a resounding whack on the back of the contentedly munching pony.
"Billy, you little devil; I don't know whether I ought to shoot you,
or pension you off on three feeds of oats a day. I must ask Marian."
He walked over to the homestead, and looked at its darkened solitude
distastefully.

He unlocked his door, but in attempting to light his lamp found that
it was empty, and spent five minutes striking matches to find a candle
before he could refill it. He splashed his clothes with kerosene, and
before he had finished his task he had declared to all his household
gods that "batching" was a rotten game.




CHAPTER VI


DUNDAS was feeling "Monday morningish." He over cooked his eggs and
the bread he fried refused to crisp, and its doughiness and the extra
annoyance of having let the water boil too long before making his tea
started him on his day's work with a distinct feeling of
dissatisfaction with the world.

He knew he was shirking work, and owned up to himself. There was only
one remedy, work itself. In his heart he felt that Marian could and
would wait, and then he felt dissatisfied with himself that he could
let it go at that. And so he turned to, and after a while his
self-training asserted itself. By ten o'clock he had finished his walls,
and when he came to make a start on the roof he had no room for
thoughts foreign to the matter in hand.

At last it was finished. When he had fitted a heavy towerbolt to his
shed next day, Alan felt he could go on with the real work, and
discover what was to be discovered without endangering his secret. It
was with a feeling of intense satisfaction that he started again with
pick and shovel, after clearing away the planks with which he had
covered the spot where he had first found the archway. As his work
advanced, his delving showed that the opening was about three feet
wide, and was evidently recessed for a considerable depth; how far he
did not at once try to ascertain. His first object was to clear the
entire doorway. In order to give himself plenty of room, he sank a
shaft about four feet square, having one of its sides formed by the
door-pierced wall. It was no easy task, for the iron shed seemed to
absorb all the sun's heat, while its doorway gave little light and
less air. Indeed, it took him the whole day to sink seven feet, when,
as he anticipated, his pick uncovered the foot of the entrance. By six
o'clock next morning he was making his first tentative strokes with
his pick in the doorway he had uncovered. On either side was the hard
smooth surface of the wall showing a clearly defined three by seven
opening, filled with almost brickhard clay, and on this he set to work
with a will. He commenced by breaking it down well in the upper half,
and in less than an hour found his progress barred by some obstacle
that defied both pick and crowbar, at a depth of about eighteen
inches. By no means discouraged, for he expected such a development,
he continued to clear away the clay with undiminished vigour, and soon
found that his advance had been stopped by a smooth surface, which,
until he had completed its clearance, he decided not to examine. By
midday his task was completed, and, on returning to work after lunch,
he brought with him one of the acetylene lamps from his dogcart, for
the light from the shed door was insufficient to reveal the interior
of the recess where his work had ceased. When the white clear light
was flashed inwards, he was for a while at a loss as to the real
nature of the obstacle. The discoloration from the clay and the lapse
of ages had tinted the whole to a dull red that made it appear as if
the back were composed of the same rocklike cement as the walls.
Kneeling in the archway Alan rubbed the surface with his moistened
finger. In a moment the dry clay worked to a paste, and, as he
continued rubbing, from the spot where he cleaned the clinging dust,
there showed up the dull but unmistakable glow of bronze-like metal.

"I've been a navvy; now I might as well turn charwoman," was his
mental note on the situation. He armed himself with a scrubbing brush
and a bucket of water, and by dint of much labour and splashing he
thoroughly cleaned from every vestige of clay or grit the metal
surface of the door, giving special attention to the corners. While he
worked one fact was strongly forced on his mind. However long the
metal had been in its place, the surface showed no sign of corrosion.
From its absolutely unmarked smoothness it might to all appearances
only have been erected a day. Although over and over again in breaking
down the clay the point of his pick had come heavily against it, there
was not even a scratch or dent left. Another point which puzzled him
not a little was that the entire surface was perfectly blank, without
knob or projection of any kind. When he had finished his scouring he
took his lamp and made a minute examination of every inch of the door,
and when he had completed it his sole gain in knowledge was that its
fitting had been absolutely perfect. There was not room for even the
point of a needle to penetrate between door and wall.

Alan went to the house, and returned with a box and a heavy driving
hammer, with the fixed resolution of solving the problem confronting
him before the day was out. Using the box as a seat in the bottom of
the shaft, he reasoned the matter over as he resurveyed the blank and
uninviting metal wall. Undoubtedly it was a door of sorts. Whoever put
it there meant it as a means of ingress or egress. "Therefore," he
said aloud, "the darned thing must open somehow;" and he emphasised
his remark by bringing the hammer down with a hearty bang on the
metal. The result was rather disconcerting, for the door answered the
stroke with the deep, hollow boom of a mighty bell that seemed to
reverberate into unknown distances. "I won't do that again," said Alan
to himself, dropping the hammer. "It's almighty funereal, whatever
causes it. But that blessed door--it might have hinges, or it might
slide up, down, or sideways, and there isn't a vestige of a sign to
show which." He shook his head, and stared long and thoughtfully.
"Now," he reflected, "the people who built this box of tricks were not
fools." He took up the hammer again, and, starting from the top
right-hand corner, he tapped his way over its entire area, and in
doing so he awoke a booming, metallic clamour that almost deafened
him. No pressing or straining for hidden springs availed, and
nightfall found him owning up to defeat.

After his evening meal he paced slowly about the shed, every now and
again descending into the shaft to try the effect of some fresh idea
as it occurred to him. At last, as the hour grew late, he decided on
bed. Perhaps the morning would bring wisdom or guidance. He returned
to the house, and commenced slowly to undress. Seated on the edge of
the bed with one boot already unlaced, he suddenly straightened up in
answer to a thought that flashed across his mind. "Now I wonder?" he
said softly. "By Jove! I'll try it now!" In a moment he had relighted
his acetylene lamp, and hurried across to the shed, and scrambled over
the loose clay into his shaft. Then, beginning on the step of the
doorway, he commenced carefully to sound the cement of the recess. All
over the step he worked, and up the left-hand side without detecting
the slightest variation in sound. Was it to be another disappointment?
He changed over to the right side. For the first two feet the sound of
the clank remained unaltered--a little lower. Then, as the hammer
fell, Alan drew a deep breath, and struck again. There was no
mistaking it. The wall rang hollow beneath the blow. "Got it! By gad!
Got it!" he almost shouted. He flashed the lamp to the spot, but even
under the dazzling white glare he could detect no alteration in the
appearance of the surface. There was no line or crevice to indicate a
patching of the wall. Nevertheless, he knew for a certainty that in
the wall was a covered recess of some kind.




CHAPTER VII


NATURE took her full toll of his weary body, and it was nearly nine
next morning before Dundas kicked off his bed clothes with a hearty
exclamation of dismay at his laxness. He awoke keenly alive to the
possibilities of the day before him, and after hurrying through his
domestic routine he made his way to the shed with a handful of tools.
He fixed his lamp so as to give the best possible light, and then, by
means of careful sounding, he marked out with chalk the area that rang
hollow beneath his hammer, and which he finally estimated was about a
foot square.

Before long, by working on one spot, he had penetrated about an inch,
when, to his delight, a small hole, no larger than a pin's head,
appeared. Once broken through, he found that the work of enlarging the
opening became easier. The cement began to fly in larger fragments
from the edge of the chisel. In about two hours he had enlarged the
opening sufficiently to admit his hand, but in spite of his eagerness
he refrained from a close examination of the interior. It was when
lunch time arrived, and half the area that had been marked out was
broken down, that he turned the light inwards only to meet with
disappointment. One inch behind the cement was a metal plate that
blocked his view. This, he found, was loose, but he could not remove
it until he had cleared away the whole of the cement. If they had done
nothing else, his difficulties had made him philosophic. He had come
to recognise the fact that whatever the intelligence was that had
created his discovery, that intelligence had so adjusted matters that
the secret could not be lightly violated.

The result of his work next morning justified his surmise about the
metal plate. He found that the recess was just ten inches square, but
so accurate had been the fitting that while a chip of the cement
remained round the edges it was impossible to remove it. Smoking
contentedly he pegged away at the work, his thoughts all the while as
busy as his hands. All the edges were clear, and at last he chipped
the fragments that still held the corners until by careful coaxing he
was enabled to work out the metal plate. As he did so it slipped
through his fingers and fell clattering to his feet. Quickly Alan
turned his light into the recess. It was not more than four inches
deep, allowing for the inch of cement he had removed, but small as it
was it held enough to call forth a quick exclamation of pleasure.
Arranged in the form of a square at the back of it were four small,
bright metal knobs, each one of which reflected back the rays of the
acetylene lamp from brilliant points of light. Each knob was at the
end of a stem protruding from the wall, and each stem sprang from the
intersecting point of two deep grooves that formed a crosscut in the
cement. "So," said Alan softly, "this is the open sesame--now I think
I'll step right inside, or perhaps this is merely a--hell!" With the
forefinger of his right hand he had touched one of the knobs. The next
instant he was lying in the bottom of the shaft in a sickly odour of
acetylene gas, with the extinguished lamp beneath him.

He pulled himself painfully together, ruefully rubbing the various
bumps he had acquired during his somersault, and wondering whether his
jarred system were entirely sound. "Well, I'll be hanged if that
wasn't a dirty trick to play on the innocent investigator--
electricity! And the father of sin himself only knows how many
volts. No, my friends," he went on, addressing the unknown builders,
"you certainly did not mean that door to be opened by a fool." He
dragged himself to the surface and examined his lamp to find it intact
and in good order. Then he turned, and looking into the darkness at
his feet, asked in injured tones how many more surprises it held for
him. He relighted the lamp, and returned to the doorway. The
glittering knobs winked back at him as he turned the light on them.
Fixing his lamp behind him so as to have both hands free, he sat down
and regarded the recess sourly. "Now I wonder," he said to himself
presently, "did I get it all the first time, or is there more to
follow? I wish to goodness I knew something about electricity."
Putting his fingers up gingerly, he touched the same knob again. Even
prepared as he was, the shock he received brought forth an angry grunt
of pain, and again he almost overbalanced himself. He rubbed his
quivering arm savagely. "Knowledge may be strength," he said angrily,
"but it's confoundedly painful to get in this locality. No, this is
certainly no place for fools. However, we'll see." He roused himself,
and scrambling to the surface betook himself to the house. He ran his
eye over his bookshelves, pulled down a volume, and for a quarter of
an hour he buried his nose in its pages. Finally he banged the book
with his open hand. "Might have thought of it before if my head had
not been wool-gathering," he said aloud, then with his hands in his
pockets he leaned back in his chair and stared through the window,
whistling softly. Suddenly he sprang up. "The very thing!" He went to
his bedroom and returned with an old raincoat, which he flung on the
table. Spreading the garment before him, he took his pocket-knife and
cut a 3 inch strip from the lower hem, and then carefully examined the
material. "Yes," he repeated, "the very thing," and proceeded to cut
from the strip four pieces about 3 inches square, and with these and
some twine he hurried back to the shaft. "Now, my friends," he said,
as he seated himself on his box before the recess. "We'll see who
knows most." Holding a piece of the cloth-cased rubber carefully in
his fingers, he pressed it to the knob with, as he expected, entire
success, for his simple non-conductor answered his purpose. Then he
folded the cloth carefully about the shank, and fastened it in place
with twine, working gingerly, so as to keep his hands from coming into
contact with the other danger points. Then he treated the other three
in the same manner, and found he could handle them all without fear.

So far so good. Now what were the knobs for? How were they to be
operated? A few tentative presses and twists soon found an answer.
Each one could move in four directions, for deep in the cement the
shanks worked on a pivot that allowed the knobs to follow the lines of
the crossed grooves, up or down, and right or left, and realising
this, Alan realised, too, that he was face to face with a problem that
might baffle him for an indefinite time. That the door could be
operated by the knobs he felt certain, but he felt more certain that
he was faced by a cunningly contrived combination lock that would test
his wits to the uttermost before he won success.

There were in all five positions, counting the upright, in which each
knob might be placed, and there were four knobs. "Now bless my soul,"
Dundas murmured, "I wonder how many thousand variations the dashed
things are capable of, and must I go on fiddling with them until I'm
grey-headed? Reminds me of how many places nine men in a boat can be
put in. Only this is worse."

With a silent prayer for patience he began to work, moving the levers
to and fro, trying them systematically in rotation, combination after
combination, till his arms ached from being held in the one position,
and his fingers almost refused to do his bidding. Then in the end he
sat back and filled his pipe. So busy had he been that time had passed
unnoticed, and it was only the clamouring of an angry stomach that
directed his attention to the hour, and he found to his surprise that
night had fallen while he worked. Another night, and he was still
outside the longed-for goal! It was no use going on, he told himself.
For all he knew, unless he stumbled on the right combination by
accident, it might take him weeks or months to exhaust all possible
variations of the levers. Stiff and tired, he dragged himself to the
surface, and then to the homestead, disgusted with his failure.

Alan set out for the shed next morning in a cheerful mood, and with
the determination to stick to his task, in spite of failure. He had
re-charged his lamp, and he set to work, whistling light-heartedly.
Following up his first idea, he commenced by numbering the levers from
one to four, and then he moved them alternatively in numerical
rotation, thus avoiding a repetition of variations. It was a tiresome
task, but he relieved the monotony with an occasional pause for a
smoke, and to stretch his cramped limbs. As time passed his movements
became mechanical. He leaned forward with his face close to the
recess, and his elbows against the wall to relieve his tired body, for
he found his occupation more trying than the hard manual work that had
preceded it. He was thinking vaguely that it was about time for lunch,
when he suddenly started up. He had heard nothing move, but some
subtle sense told him of a change. He turned his head slightly, and an
involuntary cry broke from his lips. The mighty door had disappeared,
and he was staring into the blackness beyond where it had been.




CHAPTER VIII


FOR a little space Alan could scarcely believe the evidence of his
eyes. With wildly beating heart and shaking hands he reached for his
lamp, and without rising from his seat he turned its glare into the
gloom beyond. Then he sat staring before him, big-eyed and wondering.
What he saw was a bare circular apartment about twelve feet in
diameter. Immediately inside the doorway was a small landing not more
than 3 feet square, surrounded on two sides by a balustrade of the
same familiar concrete about three feet high, while from the third
side appeared a flight of steps that curved with the wall down into
the darkness. Right before him near the low ceiling on the opposite
wall his eyes were held by a tablet, on which stood out in bold relief
three groups of characters, one below the other. The characters were
evenly spaced, the top group having three, the middle four, and the
lower one six. Moving his light slightly from side to side, Alan's
eyes rested on the doorway. "Well! May I be hanged, what's become of
the door?" for truly it had vanished. He had heard no sound as it
opened, and within there was no trace of it. Then with a chuckle of
pleasure he solved the mystery: there was a foot-wide groove where it
had been, and flashing his light to his feet he saw that it had
slipped downwards into the thickness of the wall till its upper edge
came exactly to a level with the floor.

Allowing for eighteen inches outside, a foot for the thickness of the
door, and another eighteen inches inside Alan estimated the thickness
of the wall to be about four feet, and four feet of such material as
he knew it to be composed of meant practical indestructibility. In
spite of his quivering excitement, Dundas held himself in hand. His
previous experience had made him very wary, and the possibility of
unpleasant results made him curb his impatience to investigate
further. Without leaving his seat, he turned the light over every
visible portion of the interior. Again the tablet with its bold
inscription took his eye, and he studied the characters long and
thoughtfully. "It might be an address of welcome," he mused, "or,
again, it might be a notice to keep off the grass. Looks like a
mixture of Russian and Hebrew, with a dash of Persian. Anyway, it's
been dead a lot longer than any of the dead languages I've rubbed
against, and methinks I'll find no Rosetta stone lying about." Then he
turned his light to the winding staircase. "It would appear," he went
on, half to himself, "as if I'd found an entrance from the attic, and
if I go downstairs I'll come on the furnished apartments." He half
rose, but came to rest again in answer to a warning thought. "Alan, my
son, it behoves you to move carefully, or you may find yourself in a
nasty fix. The architects of this problematically desirable building
were no second-raters."

First he turned to the levers, and after carefully noting their
position, he again commenced to work them. Watching the door
carefully, and as nothing occurred he returned them to the combination
that had gained him entrance. Then he went to his tool shed and
procured a crowbar. Armed with this he returned to the doorway, and
while standing outside he carefully tested the landing within for any
hidden trap that might lead to trouble. He satisfied himself that all
was secure, and then took up his lamp and stepped over the threshold.
Standing on the landing he turned his light into the darkness below
him, but all he could see was the stairway winding down into the
blackness beyond the lamp's rays. As the chamber was about twelve feet
in diameter, and the stairway about three feet wide, it followed that
there was a circular shaft about six feet across down the middle
leading to goodness only knew where. Strain his eyes as he would,
Dundas could only penetrate the darkness some twenty or thirty feet,
where the light caught on the winding balustrade below. He returned to
the outside of the shaft and picked up a small piece of clay, and,
holding it well over, he let it drop, and listened intently. In the
silence he heard the whiz of its passage through the air, but no sound
of its fall. He straightened up, and looked about thoughtfully, and as
he did so, the light falling on the balustrade drew his attention to a
small but significant matter. He rubbed his finger carefully over its
smooth surface, and then examined it under the lamp. "Not a trace. Not
a particle of dust. And yet--countless centuries--good God! What does
it all mean?" He broke off, murmuring disjointedly. One thing was
clear to his mind. It would be madness to attempt to descend without
ascertaining as far as possible the state of the air in the shaft.

Back to the homestead he hurried, and after rummaging in the drawer of
his sideboard he found several fishing lines, then from its hook in
the kitchen he took a hurricane lamp, and with these he returned to
the shed. He lit the hurricane lamp and attached it to one of his
lines, and, leaning over the balustrade, he lowered it slowly, using a
short piece of wood with a groove in the end to keep the lamp in the
centre of the shaft, and prevent it from striking against the
balustrade in its descent. He played out his line carefully yard after
yard, and watched the glow grow fainter and fainter as the depth
increased.

At twenty yards his line ran out, and he attached another, and
continued lowering. By hanging over and watching carefully he could
follow the course of the lamp, but it was too far down for him to
distinguish anything. Then the second line came to an end, another
twenty yards, or one hundred and twenty feet in all. Once or twice the
silence was broken by a dull echo when the lamp had touched the side
somewhere below, and the sound came up magnified and uncanny. Alan
added a third line to the others, and continued paying out as before.
Half of the third line had run out, and it was only by straining his
eyes that he could catch a faint speck of light in the depths. "Deuce
take it all," he thought. "It might be a thousand feet or more, and
I've only one more line." At the moment the line came slack in his
hand, and out of the depths came a slow, whispering sound that told of
contact somewhere below. "At last!" He looked at the remainder of the
line in his hand, and judged its length. "A hundred and sixty feet at
least. By Jove! What a trip to the bottom." He plumbed carefully to
make sure that the lamp had not caught, and that it was really on the
bottom, and, having assured himself of this, he commenced to haul up.
He was not long in satisfying himself of the purity of the air below,
for the gleam of light from the lamp grew stronger as he drew it
upwards, and when he finally retrieved it he found it burning as
brightly as when he began to lower it. A careful examination of the
bottom of the lamp showed that it was quite dry, and this was
sufficient to indicate that whatever dangers the shaft held, foul air
and water were not included. It was meagre information at the best,
but still it was something.

He had already made up his mind as to his future movements, and his
curiosity, now at fever heat, could no longer be restrained. In spite
of unforeseen dangers, he would not have shared the honour of
exploration, even with a friend, for a kingdom. Leaving his hurricane
lamp on the landing and taking with him the acetylene lamp from his
dogcart in one hand, and the crowbar in the other, he turned to the
stairway and began to descend. His progress was slow, for with the bar
he tested every step before putting his foot on it. In spite of his
eagerness, or perhaps because of it, his heart was going a good deal
faster than usual, but his head was perfectly clear, for he thoroughly
realised the importance of keeping his wits about him.

At the first turn he lost sight of the doorway, and after that his
world consisted of the winding path before him, and its dancing
shadows. As he went lower and lower the echoes around him increased.
Every sound was magnified and distorted out of all recognition. The
clank of the iron bar on each step as he tried it rang and rolled up
and down in deep metallic murmurings. The sound of the tread of his
heavy boots was thrown from wall to wall until it seemed that in every
step he was accompanied by an unseen multitude who thronged round him
in the darkness. Even when he paused, awed in spite of himself, the
winding gallery seemed full of mysterious uncanny whisperings. "My
aunt! What a beast of a place--enough to make anyone funk," he
thought. But he sternly repressed his feelings and recommenced his
descent.

All the way down the walls showed unchanging and unbroken. At first he
had tried to calculate the distance he had gone, but there was nothing
to guide his eye, and he soon lost all sense of his position. His slow
progress seemed unending. The blackness from above seemed to weigh on
him with a palpable force, and in spite of every endeavour to put
aside the idea, the ghostly crowding footfalls about him seemed to
grow in numbers. The clanking ring of the bar boomed and echoed off
into the distance, and returned like the tolling of iron bells. It
seemed hours since he had started on his journey, though he knew it
could not be more than a few minutes. With his teeth clenched and his
breath coming fast through his nostrils he forced himself to go on. In
his heart he knew if he paused he would give away to panic and bolt
for the surface. He felt a cold, clammy sweat break out on his
forehead, and it seemed as if each hair on the back of his head lifted
separately. Would he never reach the end of these damned steps, he
wondered. Did this twisting, nerve-racking track wind downwards into a
ghost-haunted eternity? "God Almighty!" The words were wrung from
terror-parched lips as he paused on the last step. The iron bar
clashed clamouring to the floor, then he turned and fled--fled with a
shriek that echoed in a devil's chorus. Upwards--upwards--anywhere.
Oh, God! for the light of day. An animal instinct made him cling to
the light he carried as he fled. After the first wild cry he made no
sound. Afterwards he could recall no detail of his flight. Instinct
lent him strength to scramble from the shaft at last. The glorious
light of day partially calmed his semi-madness as he sped to the
house. Once there he snatched his rifle from its rack, and jamming a
cartridge home with his thumb, he ran back to the verandah, and stood
looking towards the shed with the weapon at the ready, waiting for he
knew not what to appear.

As he stood there, pale faced and with the perspiration rolling off
him, he almost jumped a foot to hear a voice behind him. It was
nothing more unusual than the driver of the storekeeper's cart with
supplies from Glen Cairn. Alan forced himself to calmness with an
effort, and answered the man's astonished stare with a smile. "Wild
turkey," he said. "Not exactly legal, you know," he went on, glancing
at the rifle. "But it's hard to resist temptation." Fortunately for
Alan, the man was not gifted with any imagination; he accepted the
story without question. "Gord's truth, Mr. Dundas, when I seen you
comin' out of that shed I made sure you was snake-bit. Cripes, but you
did leg it. Where's the bird?"

"Gone into the vines," said Alan, setting down the rifle and glancing
over his shoulder. Then he took delivery of his goods and gave the man
an order for his next trip. The proximity of a fellow-creature was all
that he wanted to restore his shaken equanimity, and by the time the
driver was rattling down the track to the road he was almost himself
again.

Alan went back to the house and poured himself out a nip of whisky
with a hand that let the bottle rattle a tattoo on the edge of the
glass. "Pretty state I'm in," he murmured. "Dutch courage, too." He
gulped down the spirit and returned to the verandah to stare
thoughtfully at the shed that held the mystery, and pieced together in
his mind the events of his exploring trip.

"Now, was it just pure funk--or was it. No, by heaven! It was real. My
eyes couldn't have played tricks like that. And yet it's slam dancing
dementia on the face of it." But dementia or not, he knew that as he
had come to the last step on that infernal staircase; a step that had
brought him on to a wide circular landing; just directly opposite to
where he had stood was an opening in the floor of the landing, and
from that opening came a brilliant stream of light that flung itself
against the wall before him, and in the midst of the light showed up
clear and distinct the shadow of a human figure with one threatening
hand up-raised. Alan knew he had not imagined this. Yet the sheer
impossibility of, in the first place, light, and in the second place
humanity, in such circumstances might well make him hesitant to accept
the evidence of his senses. He glanced at the watch in his belt. It
was just four o'clock. He snapped out the cartridge and returned the
rifle to its rack. Then he went to his bedroom, and from a drawer in
his dressing-table took a .32 automatic pistol and some cartridges,
and slipped in a full clip.

At the door he paused and returned again, and took off his heavy
working boots, and substituted for them a pair of thick rubber-soled
tennis shoes. He did not want the company of the ghostly army on his
second trip. Then with the pistol in his hand he made his way once
more to the shed. At the door he listened intently. Not a sound broke
the stillness. He advanced and looked into the shaft. There he saw the
acetylene lamp he had abandoned in his flight still burning brightly.
Again he listened intently for a few moments, and then let himself
down. Inside the massive doorway the hurricane lamp still glowed,
lighting up the interior. He picked up the acetylene, and with his
finger on the trigger of the automatic, he stepped inside, He leaned
over the balustrade, and listened with strained senses. In the intense
silence, he could only hear the deep drawing of his breath. Then,
tight lipped and with tense nerves he turned to the stairway.

It took courage of no light order to force himself to those black
whispering depths, where in spite of all his self-assurance, his
shrinking flesh told him that any turn in the winding path might bring
him face to face with something nameless, and beyond the ken of
imaginations.

Down he went, this time faster than before, for he had now no need to
test his path. In order to divert his mind he counted his steps as he
went. He held the lamp so as to throw the light as far ahead as
possible, and in his right hand he grasped the pistol ready for
instant action. At the one hundred and fiftieth step he paused, and in
a moment the whispering murmurs of his progress died away into aching
silence. It was a stillness so intense that he could plainly hear the
thumping of his heart. Then he pulled himself together and went on.
One hundred and seventy-five--eighty surely he must be near the end.
Ten more steps and still the darkness ahead. Then his lamp flashed on
a break in the descent, and showed his crowbar lying on the lower
landing, and Alan braced himself for what he knew was coming. It was
not until he stood on the final step, that he could be sure. Treading
with feline stealth, and with every nerve alert, he went downward.
Then he knew at last that his eyes had not deceived him. Both light
and shadow were still there.




CHAPTER IX


STANDING rigid, with his breath coming in quick gasps, Alan took in
every detail of his position. The landing he had come upon appeared to
be an enlargement of the shaft. It was circular, and quite forty feet
in diameter, with a low ceiling and with walls perfectly devoid of
ornament. At first only one fact fixed his mind to the exclusion of
all else. Straight before him on the opposite side of the landing was
an opening in the floor leading to a lower apartment, and from this
opening shone a brilliant, white, steady glow that flung a clearly
defined arched light upon the wall in front of him, and this arched
light framed the shadow of a motionless human figure. How long Dundas
stood staring he did not know, but long as he stood the shadowed
figure showed no sign of movement. With one arm upraised and distorted
by the angle of the light, it stood out immense and threatening, as if
to warn him away.

After minutes that seemed like hours Alan summoned up his courage.
Hard as it was to go forward, he felt he could not go back without
having solved the mystery of the light. Slowly, with infinite care to
make no sound, he placed his lamp on the step behind him; then he
stepped forward gingerly and went down on his hands and knees, keeping
his eyes fixed on the shadow, and his pistol ready for instant use.
Inch after inch he wriggled himself across the cold, hard floor, now
and again pausing to listen. At length he came to the opening and drew
himself forward cautiously, till by craning his neck he could peer
over the edge to satisfy his burning curiosity. It was a long time
before he moved again, although what he saw allayed his fears, his
astonishment held him spellbound. A flight of steps led to another
floor thirty feet below, to an apartment the size of which he could
not determine. Just below him on the floor was a tripod that held what
appeared to be a ball of white fire, from which emanated the light
that streamed through the opening he was looking through. It was not a
diffused light, but was projected as if from a powerful lens. For a
little time Alan was at a loss to account for the shadow of the human
figure on the wall, until he realised that it was projected directly
from the source of light itself, and was beyond doubt thrown on the
place where it could be seen from above, with the object of doing to
investigators what it had done to Dundas. That the device had scared
him badly Alan admitted ruefully, but he felt some consolation in
knowing that there had been no witness to his stampede.

"By Jove! whoever was responsible for that little game scored
properly," he thought with a grin. "If his spirit is anywhere in this
locality it must have been tickled to see me foot it upstairs."
Gradually as he stared below another fact forced itself to his senses.
Somewhere beyond the range of his vision was another source of light
unaccounted for by the one below him. It was not strong, but diffused,
and served to show what appeared to be a pattern on the pavement
beneath. "Someone left the light burning," he mused. "There ought to
be a pretty bill. Great Scott! Fancy being landed with an account for
several hundred thousand years' light supply." The idea tickled his
fancy. "Wonder if I could be made responsible? What a pretty case to
argue before the Full Court. Good Lord, though, it's no wonder. The
originators of this concern knew a few things, and didn't want to
leave the finding of them to chance. That light now, for instance--I
guess I'm going to see things before this is over, provided"--he
paused, turning things over in his mind. "Yes, provided I don't
stumble on any little prearranged contrivance to end my explorations."
He sat up and slipped the pistol into his belt, realising that by his
wits alone could he guard himself against the dangers of the task
before him. Then he walked over to where the crowbar had fallen, and,
picking it up, he returned to the opening. There was no need for his
lamp, so he left it where he had set it down. He started down to the
lower chamber, testing each step as before. The floor he had left was
about six inches deep, and when he reached the fourth step he sat down
and looked around him. The stairway he was on went down steeply
against the so that the first glance enabled him to take in the whole
of his surroundings, and for a long time he sat motionless with his
thoughts in a state of chaos. It seemed as though he had penetrated to
a great circular vestibule, fully eighty feet in diameter, whose walls
were broken at regular intervals by what appeared to be six wide,
translucent doors. Four of these he could see plainly from where he
sat, and his eyes wandered from one to another, drinking in a beauty
that was beyond his dreams of the beautiful and wonderful. They
appeared to be composed of stained glass, through which the light he
had noticed streamed, filling the vestibule with its soft radiance.
Even from where he sat the gorgeous figured designs on the panels
opposite were perfectly distinct. He had very little artistic lore,
but a strongly developed love for the beautiful, and he felt certain
that nothing he had ever heard of could approach those translucent
panels for sheer beauty of colour or design.

The soft glow filtering through showed the vestibule to be quite empty
but for the tripod bearing the lens, whose beam of light cut into the
semi-darkness like a sword of fire, and one other object the nature of
which, until his eyes became accustomed to the gloom, he could not
make out. Gradually under his straining sight it took shape, and
resolved itself into a sculptured group of three figures on a low
pedestal that occupied the centre of the apartment. Close as they were
to him however, Alan could determine no details in the cathedral
gloom. Another thing at the same time fixed his attention. He had
noticed it before, but had been so occupied with other matters that
its significance escaped him until now. The stairway he was on had no
balustrade. Instead, from the roof above to each step, were fixed two
thin bars of metal, hardly as thick as a lead pencil. They were
sufficiently close together to prevent even a child from passing
between them, but so slender as to be almost unnoticeable.

Dundas looked at them sourly and suspiciously. "Now what the deuce is
the reason for that?" he thought. "Another infernal trick?" After a
few minutes he touched one of them gingerly, half expecting a shock
that would reward his curiosity; but found he could handle them with
impunity. Emboldened by his immunity from trouble, he grasped one of
them firmly and tried its strength. The result of the attempt took him
by surprise, for in spite of its wirelike proportions it remained as
rigid as a bar of inch steel against the utmost pressure he could
exert. "So, my friends," he muttered, "visitors are expected to go all
the way down the steps, and not take any short cuts. Now, if I have
learned anything about this blessed place, those wires were not put
there out of considerations of safety. There's a reason, and I doubt
if it's a pleasant one." He stood up and recommenced his descent,
sounding before him with his crowbar more carefully than ever.
Two-thirds of the way were passed in safety, and he was beginning to think
he had judged wrongly. Then he struck downwards with his bar at the
tenth step from the bottom. As it touched the step something flashed
for one fleeting second before his eyes, something that swished
viciously so close to his face that it seemed almost to touch him.
There was a loud clear twang of metal under immense tension, and a
jarring blow on the bar he held that almost wrenched it from his
grasp. Then something heavy clanked down the lower steps and came to
rest on the pavement below. Dundas sprang backwards with a cry half
anger and half surprise. What had happened? The bar in his hand felt
lighter and shorter, and he held it up close to his eyes and examined
it. Nearly a foot of its length had been severed by a clean, smooth
cut that had gone through the metal as if it had been putty, and it
was the severed end that had clattered down the steps. In a moment
Alan realised how close he had been to death, and a cold chill went
through him. "The devils," he muttered savagely. "The devils!" He
retreated upwards, got the acetylene lamp he had left behind him, and
returned to the lower stairway. Moving with infinite caution he
examined the wall above the danger point. The clear white rays showed
what his eyes had missed in the gloom. It was the line of a narrow
vertical cleft in the wall, and turning the light downward he saw a
similar cleft along the step beneath him. He placed the light beside
him, and then sat down. Then he leaned well backward out of reach of
danger, and again pressed the crowbar to the step below. At the first
slightest touch a great white blade flashed out and downward from the
wall, severing the bar as before. The thought of what would have
happened had the step been pressed by his foot brought a cold
perspiration to his forehead. The fiendish ingenuity that had barred
his way struck a cold fear to his heart. Alan knew that but for the
precaution he had taken he must have met a terrible death, and his
mutilated body would be lying there at the foot of the stairway in the
gloomy silence. The shock to his nerves made thinking out of the
question, and with shaking limbs and dazed senses he made his way
upwards. Out into the dusk he went, and locked the door of the shed
behind him. In his heart was a deep feeling of gratitude for his
preservation.

That evening he prepared his meal in thoughtful silence. There was
none of the cheerful whistling and singing that usually accompanied
his last work of the day. When he had finished and set all in order,
he sat down and commenced to write. He set out in clear detail every
incident of his discovery, and every danger to be encountered so far
as he had gone. It was far into the night when he had finished. Then
he enclosed the many sheets in an envelope and wrote across it in
clear, round hand: "If I am missing, the contents of this letter must
be read before any search is made for me." This he signed and dated.
Then he placed the envelope in a conspicuous spot on the mantelpiece,
so that it could not be possibly overlooked. "Now," he thought, "if I
do get bowled out, Bryce, or whoever comes to investigate, will run
fewer risks." Then, satisfied that he had insured others to a certain
extent, if not himself, he went to his bed thoroughly tired out with
his strenuous day.

But, tired as he was, the sleep he longed for refused to come at his
bidding. The wonder of his discovery had gripped his mind so that, try
as he would, he could not clear his brain of the questions that
clamoured for an answer. The feeling of anger which he had at first
felt at the deadly trap he had escaped had given way under a quieter
reasoning with himself. Whatever mystery was hidden behind those great
doors was surely worthy of the care taken to guard it. He realised
that every difficulty that he had encountered so far was capable of
solution, and that every obstacle was one which would bar effectually
an unreasoning or unintelligent intruder, and that behind it all was
the evident fact that everything had been planned to prevent the
secret of the place from falling into the hands of anyone who was
unfitted by lack of courage or mental training to estimate it at its
proper value.

Alan smiled to himself when he realised how completely the events of
the past few days had absorbed him. Glen Cairn may have been a
thousand miles away for all the thought he gave it. The friends he
knew had been completely forgotten. It seemed years since he had last
seen Bryce, instead of just one week. The next day would be Sunday,
and he knew that, instead of resting, nothing could tear him from the
work in hand. He felt he should have gone to see Marian, but he
determined that while the mystery remained unsolved he would be
chained to the spot.

At last sleep came, deep and untroubled, and the sun had risen long
before Dundas became conscious of the day.




CHAPTER X


WITH his hands deep in his pockets and his chin on his chest, Alan
paced slowly up and down the verandah of the homestead. He had
abandoned his first idea of going at once to the shed because he
wanted to think with his mind untroubled by the weird surroundings of
the great vestibule. Obviously there were some means of passing that
murderous blade. It would be easy for him to jump from the step above
to the floor beneath, but the possibility of finding something as bad,
or worse on landing, forced him to put the idea aside. He felt that
each bar to his progress must be fairly overcome before he could
safely press forward. In his mind's eye he went over the surroundings
for the key of the situation, and he could see only one way out.
Whatever motive force there was behind the blade could not be
inexhaustible. Doubtless it was a question of mechanics, and the only
means he could see was to exhaust the power that drove the flying
death until he could pass unharmed.

He went to his tool shed and fastened a pair of ploughshares together
with a piece of fencing wire leaving a fair length of wire over that
he bent roughly into a hook. Then he took his lamp and made his way
down into the winding staircase. He had become familiar now with its
echoings, and smiled to think of his racked nerves on his first
descent. At length he reached the bottom of the first landing, and
found the remnant of the crowbar he had left there the night before.
This he carried with him, and, scarcely pausing to glance at the
shadowed wall, he made his way to the great vestibule. Treading
carefully, he stopped above the danger mark, and sitting down, he
examined the step beneath. He found, as he had expected, that the
cleft that allowed the passage of the blade terminated about an inch
from the end of the step near the wire bars. Holding the crowbar
carefully so that it was clear of the sweep of steel, he touched the
edge of the step lightly beside the wires and the touch was answered
instantly by the ringing whiz of the flying metal. Even prepared as he
was, Alan flinched back from the blow and released the pressure. Then
he took the ploughshares he had brought with him, and adjusted the
hook so as to catch the bar of the step, and let the weight fall
outside. It was a simple plan that would keep a continuous weight on
the step that would be out of reach of the blade, and it acted to
perfection. The moment the pressure came to the step the blade flashed
outward. As Alan had surmised, it was fitted to an axle set in the
wall, and instead of stopping as before after one slash when the
pressure had been released, it continued flashing before him with ever
increasing speed. Somewhere in the wall beside him he could hear the
deep drone of machinery in motion. In a few seconds the speed was so
intense that it appeared as if a dazzling quadrant of burnished metal
had darted out of the wall. The whizzing as it cut through the air
rose from a wail to a thin, high-pitched screech, and even after
retreating upwards several steps to be out of reach of possible harm,
Alan could feel the displaced air pressing against his face as if
driven from a blast. With his lamp turned full on the spot, he watched
the whirling, flying blade with grim satisfaction. Patience was an
asset in the game he was playing, but he felt sure he had found a key
to the barrier before him, and he was content to wait.

Presently his eyes strayed from the shimmering quadrant to the great
doors that shed their soft splendour through the dim vestibule,
wondering at the mystery they guarded, and from the doors they turned
to the sculptured group in the centre. On this he turned the glare of
the acetylene lamp. Of the three figures only one faced him, and this
he scrutinised with bated breath. It was the life-size image of a man
clad in a long robe that fell almost to his feet, and under the steady
white rays every detail stood out with perfect distinctness. The body
was bent forward slightly with both hands resting on a short staff,
and the robe showed ragged and torn as if slipping from the shoulders
of the gaunt frame that supported it, but it was the face that held
the gaze of the watcher. It was the face of an old man, but in its
intense drawn misery could be read the premature age of pain and
overwhelming sorrow. Never had Alan realised such agony as stared back
at him from the blank eyes under the scarred and lined forehead, but
it seemed as if the stern, set lips were fighting back any feeling of
weakness or surrender that seemed struggling to find expression. On
the pedestal at the feet of the figure the light gleamed on a metal
tablet, and on the tablet Alan recognised a repetition of the first
group of characters he had seen at the head of the first stairway.
"Evidently," he thought, "the name of that monument of misfortune. Ye
gods! what a face! A portrait, beyond doubt. I suppose I'll find the
other two figures are labelled with the remainder of these
hieroglyphics upstairs at the entrance. I wish I could see them
properly." But there was no chance of a proper examination of the
other two until he was able to gain the floor of the vestibule. Both
were turned away from him, but he could see that one had an arm
upraised and pointing directly at the gleaming splendour of the door
in front of him.

The inaction of waiting with the goal in sight was exasperating beyond
words, but while that screeching blade remained in motion he must
possess his soul in patience. He wondered vaguely how many revolutions
it was making each minute that passed. His situation was not very
pleasant, sitting cramped on the step that seemed to grow harder as
time went on, and, moreover, he realised with a slight shiver that the
temperature of the great vestibule was very much below that of the
atmosphere of the surface. At last his patience became exhausted, and
he determined that rather than sit there in irritated watchfulness he
would return to the surface and let that whizzing machinery wear
itself out. Alan's previous trips up the winding staircase had taught
him that it was not a journey to be undertaken lightly, but to face
the climb was better than fretting his patience with compulsory
idleness. So off he set, and forced himself to prepare his dinner.
Then he selected a book, and by sheer force of will concentrated his
mind on it. It was about eleven in the morning when he had adjusted
the weights and started the wheels, and he had decided that he would
not return until four o'clock. It took a good deal of self-discipline
to adhere to his determination. However, he succeeded, but it must be
confessed that the author of "The Origin and Development of Moral
Ideas" never had a less enthusiastic reader. At last! He flung the
heavy volume on the table and hurried to the shaft; then downward. He
had noticed in the morning that until he had half completed his ascent
he could hear the sound of the flying blade. Now, on the way down he
strained his ears to catch every sound. As he went lower and lower his
heart beat faster, now and then he paused to listen, and then hope
became conviction. Even when he had reached the lower landing and
stood before the shadowy figure no sound broke the silence. He hurried
onwards, quivering with excitement. As he stepped down into the lower
stairway he saw in an instant that the blade had ceased its movement.
He took his bar and carefully tested the danger step, but this time
without result. His way was clear at last. Even so, he knew the risk
of any relaxation in his precautions. He had gained too wholesome a
respect for the abilities of the builders in the way of unpleasant
surprises to have any illusions that there was nothing more to follow.
Treading as delicately as a cat he went down the remaining steps.

At last he stood on the lower floor. The lamp showed up a wonderful
pattern of mosaic that radiated from the sculptured group in the
centre, so that he seemed to stand on a vast jewelled carpet.
Everywhere the white light fell it was flashed back from a thousand
gleaming multi-coloured points of light. It seemed sacrilege to set
foot upon it, and Alan felt pleased that his rubber-shod shoes would
not be likely to mar its beauty.

His first idea was to examine that strange ball of light that
projected its rays through the landing above, and, walking carefully,
a few steps brought him before it. The most minute scrutiny failed to
show any attachment to the tripod. It looked like the lens from a
lantern that had been carefully placed to throw its rays in the
desired direction. For a long time he stared, hesitating to touch it.
Holding his hand within an inch before it he found not the slightest
trace of warmth. "Light without heat," Alan murmured, bending over and
gazing into the brilliant glare. He touched the lens with a tentative
finger, expecting developments. Nothing happened. Then he boldly
closed his hand over it, and without difficulty lifted it from its
stand. He turned it over and over, sending its dazzling rays
erratically round the vestibule. All he could discover was that behind
the lens appeared to be a cavity containing something self-luminous,
but whether liquid or gas he could not determine. Set deep in it was a
tiny opaque human figure--the origin of that spectre that had caused
Dundas his wild stampede. Alan chuckled when he realised the
simplicity of the cause of the nerve-racking effect. "Cold; perfectly
cold," he muttered. "And yet how may centuries has it been spreading
that light? What a thing! Why, the formula for making that light alone
would stagger half the world. I wonder how the Standard Oil Company,
for instance, would view the idea as a commercial rival. Or the
electric lighting companies or the gas companies. No oil--no wires--no
pipes--no nuffin, just light. Guess I could retire on this alone.
Seems to me I'll have to do some pretty solid thinking before I'm
through with this business." He replaced the lens carefully in its
original position and turned to the centre of the vestibule, taking
his stand beneath the group on the pedestal. From here he saw to the
full the wonderful beauty of the place. It seemed with its exquisite
soft lighting like a chapel in some cathedral. Each doorway was quite
twenty feet in width, and extended almost to the roof. It was hard to
believe that the light that filtered through was not the light of day.

He was now able to inspect the remaining figures at his leisure. They
were both statues of men, and were doubtless from the same hand as the
one he had examined from the stairway. One was represented seated in a
high-backed chair, looking down at a strange instrument he held in his
hand. His face was one that blended in a high degree both intellect
and benevolence. The features were perfectly regular, and the slight
smile that marked the corners of the lips took away any trace of
hardness. "I should say," reflected Alan, "that you were a jolly good
sport in your time. Fifty if you were a day, and your heart was never
older than fifteen. I should like to have had a smoke and a yarn with
you, and that's more than I would wish for with the imperial gentleman
beside you. Humph! Now, he was never younger than fifty." The other
figure stood stiffly erect. His robe fell in straight folds to his
feet. His whole attitude was one of overbearing arrogance and command.
The right arm pointed rigidly before him in the superb gesture of one
who has the right and the power to enforce obedience. The head was
held high. It was not a cruel face, but it was haughty and pitiless,
without one redeeming and softening feature, but at the same time
there was nobility about it that conveyed the idea of unswerving
devotion to ideals. As Alan expected, he found beneath each figure a
repetition of the other inscriptions at the entrance. He looked up
again at the tall, commanding figure above him.

"By Jove!" he thought, "I'd not care to come before you for sentence,
my friend; you look as if you'd give a man ten years hard for a plain
drunk and disorderly. Shouldn't be surprised if you had a finger in
the building of this place, the nasty parts, at any rate." He paused,
and followed with his eyes the direction of the outstretched hand. "By
Jove! Now I wonder--it does look as though he were ordering me to try
that door first." For a long time Alan looked round the vestibule
thoughtfully. It was to him a matter of indifference which door he
approached first. From where he stood there was nothing to choose
between them. There appeared to be no reason for preference and yet,
that commanding figure seemed to speak with a voice more eloquent than
words. He looked from the door to the figure. "I may seem prejudiced,
but I don't like the look of you, my friend. If I try that door I may
get a cracked skull or a broken neck or some other delicacy not in
season. It looks too easy a solution of my choice. If you'll pardon my
discourtesy I think I'll try the opposite one." He turned, and,
walking round the group, went slowly towards the opposite side of the
vestibule. He trod carefully, feeling each step as he went. It was
well for him that he had not relaxed his guard. He was within twelve
feet of the door he was approaching, when, without a sound, just as
his outstretched foot touched the pavement before him, a great section
of it, fully ten feet wide and as long as the width of the door, swung
over as if on an axis, disclosing a black gulf below, and then as
swiftly returned to its place. It made absolutely no sound or jar in
its movement, and the very silence added to the shock that Dundas felt
at the narrowness of his escape. He had thrown himself back at the
first movement, instinctively, but even then he was scarcely able to
retain his balance. How he had escaped treading on the trap as he
walked from the stairway in the first place he could not conceive. He
could only have missed it by a few inches. He sat down and wiped his
forehead while he recovered from the nervous jolt his latest
experience of the peculiarities of the vestibule had given him, and
while he considered his position he delivered himself aloud of his
whole-souled opinion of the originators of the scheme. He leaned
forward and scrutinised the pavement carefully, but, search as he
would, he could discover no trace of the line along which it had
opened. Then he pressed forwards with his hand until he felt it give
again. He had one fleeting glimpse of the chasm below, and drew back
more than satisfied with his experiment. "Lucky for me," he murmured,
"that it was adjusted so delicately; had it worked the least bit
stiffly my exploring would have terminated somewhere in the dark.
Whew! What a place!"

He sat up again and looked round. "Well, I'll try the door his majesty
commands me to, but I'll do it on my hands and knees. I won't be had
that way again. The attitude may be ridiculous, but it's tolerably
safe--if anything is safe here." He returned to the pedestal, and in a
humble and lowly manner, testing each inch of the pavement before him,
he approached the doors on the opposite side. He was so intent in his
watch for a repetition of his former danger that he did not notice the
progress he was making. His face was close to the floor, and his eyes
were fixed on the glittering mosaic, when suddenly he started
backward. He had heard no sound, but without the slightest warning a
great brightness poured over him. It was as if the midday sun had
blazed out suddenly from twilight. An involuntary cry of amazement
escaped him. Of their own accord the doors had parted in the middle
and swung wide open, flooding the vestibule with light, and disclosing
what lay beyond.




CHAPTER XI


DUNDAS rose slowly to his feet, and then stood staring straight before
him. After the first cry he made no sound, remaining rigid and
motionless, so that he might have appeared to an onlooker as if turned
to stone. He was standing on the threshold of a great gallery fully
two hundred feet in length. It was ablaze with light from end to end,
and at first his confused senses could grasp no detail from the
glorious mass of form and colour that confronted him. Then, out of the
chaos, came slow order. With faltering, half-fearful footsteps, he
went forward, oppressed with a sense of awe he had never felt before.
Inside the gallery he paused again, while the real meaning of what he
saw impressed itself on his mind. "My God! How wonderful! Surely they
have gathered here all the beautiful in the universe." His
low-whispered words echoed away in the weird silence. Turning slightly, he
looked behind him. The light that poured through the open door seemed
concentrated on the sculptured figure in the vestibule. With
outstretched hand it seemed commanding him to go forward. The thought
came to his mind that it was no effect of chance that had placed that
figure where it stood. They who had fashioned the wonders around had
surely set it there to speak their behest ages on countless ages after
death had struck them into silence. Again Alan's eyes turned to his
immediate surroundings. He realised that the gallery he had entered
was indeed a gallery of art. Everywhere his eyes fell they encountered
some new and unexpected beauty.

From floor to gorgeously decorated arched ceiling the height was about
forty feet. One of the first peculiarities of the gallery that struck
Alan was the fact that the walls, instead of being parallel, were
divergent, so that from a width of not more than twenty-five feet at
the entrance, at the farther end they were quite double that distance
apart. From the walls about halfway up sprang a wide balcony, which
was self-supported, for no pillar broke the splendid vista. The whole
floor space was taken up by tables and cabinets, arranged with
gangways between them in order to give free access from every side,
and each and all was the resting-place for some exquisite work of art.
From the roof hung festoons and clusters of globes, each blazing with
the same splendid white radiance that had flashed from the lens in the
vestibule. Along the walls on every side stood statues, singly and in
groups, bearing aloft jewelled vessels of exquisite design that
radiated the same glorious light, and wherever it fell it was flashed
back and forth from table and cabinet in a myriad splendid rays. It
shone on vase and goblet, and flashed from burnished metal, and turned
dull gold to glowing fire. It was reflected a thousand fold from the
polished splendour of the walls of coloured marbles.

Alan stood as one in a dream scarce knowing where to rest his eyes. On
every hand were objects of untold value, the very simplest of which
would have been a prize for a national museum. Then he commenced to
wander aimlessly, turning as a child would in a garden from flower to
flower, as some fresh, strange beauty caught his eye. Even each table
and cabinet seemed to have been chosen for its own special artistic
merit. Every imaginable material seemed to have been pressed into
service for their composition. His eyes alighted on hundreds of
articles, the use or meaning of which he could not guess, but in one
respect they were all alike--all were beautiful. Once he paused long
before a slender pedestal bearing a statuette. It was the reclining
figure of a woman carved from a single piece of delicate pink
semi-transparent stone. One arm was thrown back behind her head, the other
was held upwards towards him. So perfect was the workmanship that it
seemed as if the half-parted lips smiled back at him in friendly
greeting as he gazed in mute wonder. Alan shook his head and smiled
back at her. "Little lady," he said softly, "I wish you were as lively
as you look. I'll guarantee those dainty lips could satisfy my
maddening curiosity if you could be a fairy Galatea to my Pygmalion.
Whose wonderful hands shaped that exquisite form of yours? Whose hands
placed you there to rack my brain with their riddles?" He turned away
with a slight sigh.

A great flashing goblet on a table near by held his eye. It was
perfectly plain and almost spherical, and looked like and was
evidently meant to represent a bubble, for the stem it was set on was
formed of tiny replicas of the bowl itself. In one light it was
perfectly colourless, while in another it seemed to break into a mass
of iridescent multi-coloured fire. He held it in his hand, wondering
at its delicacy, for the bowl itself was no thicker than paper. It
seemed to Alan that if it were filled for use it would break under its
own weight. As he turned it over it slipped from his fingers. He gave
a low cry of dismay as it fell, expecting to see it shivered into tiny
fragments at his feet. Instead, to his astonishment, as it struck the
floor it bounced slightly, giving out a clear musical jingle as it
rolled away and came to rest against a cabinet near by. Alan picked it
up. It showed neither flaw nor crack. Tentatively he tapped it against
the metal edge of the table. Its clear, bell-like tone filled the
gallery with music. Again he struck, harder this time, and without
result. Emboldened, he brought it down again and again, until at last
he struck with all his force, sending splendid clashing echoes round
the vaulted roof, but the fragile vessel remained intact. He returned
it to its place. "Glass," he murmured, "and yet unbreakable as steel.
Indeed, I doubt if any steel we know of would have stood such a
hammering without fracture."

Then he came on something he had been looking for. On a stand by
itself was a blazing bowl of flowers, such flowers as he had never
dreamed of. They were from man's, and not nature's, workshop, although
he had to look a long time before he realised the fact. Set amongst
the blossoms were tiny globes of light, and these, above all things,
were what he wanted to examine. He found he could detach one without
trouble. At the first glance he was sure that the light was the same
as in the lens in the vestibule. Like it, the tiny globe was perfectly
cold, but now he was able to determine that the light emanated from a
self-luminous gas with which the globe was filled. Conjecture was
useless. With so many hundred other matters that had come under his
notice that day, it must remain a mystery, for the present at least.

As he wandered through the gallery with his brain almost dazed by the
overwhelming flood of new impressions, he had lost all idea of time
until he was overcome by a feeling of intense weariness. The
fascination of the place held him in its grip so that he was loth to
leave, but nature was too strong to be withstood. Slowly he returned
to the great doorway. He had no idea what time he had spent in the
gallery, but he knew he had not seen a thousandth part of its wonders.
Even a cursory inspection, he knew, would take many days to complete.
On his way out he paused a moment, with bent head, before the Imperial
figure in the vestibule, doing mute homage instinctively. Then, with
aching limbs, he started his weary climb to the surface. When he left
the shed it came to him as a shock that night had fallen while he
remained below, but until he reached the homestead and found the hour
was nearly midnight he did not know how absorbed he had been in his
exploration.

The spartan simplicity of his home contrasted oddly with the scene of
beauty he had so lately left, and an amused smile played over his face
as he thought of the astonishment of Bryce or any other visitor if he
collected only a few of the things from the great gallery below and
decorated his humble surroundings with them.




CHAPTER XII


IT was a sorely perplexed man who faced the light of the following
day. During the night the weather had broken, and long battalions of
grey clouds trooped up from the south, and the first signs of the
coming autumn were in the air. Alan stood staring over his vines
through the soft drizzle of rain. There were questions he must decide
then and there, and the principal one was, how far was he justified in
keeping the secret of his discovery to himself. For the time being he
put the legal aspect of the position in the background. The law of
"Treasure Trove" could, and would, look after itself. It was his moral
obligation to the world at large that troubled him. He knew that it
would be impossible for him to keep the secret for an indefinite time,
but the "when" and the "how" of the disclosure was the question. He
felt that the wonders lying at his feet were not intended for the
individual benefit of the discoverer. At last he came to the
conclusion that he would at least make a complete investigation of the
place before he came to a decision. This right was one that could not
be gainsayed him. Then, again, came the question of his every-day
affairs. Fortunately he had earned a reputation for hard-working
solitude, and there were very few in the district who could claim to
question his absence from Glen Cairn, and with these he felt that he
must deal as the situation arose. There was Marian, of course, and it
was with a feeling of dissatisfaction and self-condemnation that he
thought how entirely the events of the last few days had effaced her
from his mind, and how little she counted compared with his present
absorbing interests.

Regardless of rain, he strode out across the vineyard, ploughing
heavily through the soft, sticky soil. He scrutinised his crop
carefully from end to end, making mental notes as to how long it would
be before he must take in hand the work of sending the grapes to the
winery, a work that meant a fortnight's incessant toil and the
necessity of undesirable strangers in the shape of pickers, about the
homestead. In the end he decided that he could count on at least three
clear weeks. It seemed an absurdity that he should trouble about the
matter at all when he was the master of untold wealth, but at present
he could not afford to court the inevitable inquiry that such an
extraordinary proceeding would bring in its train.

With his troubles temporarily settled, he returned to the homestead,
but before he descended into the shaft, he fixed a strong bolt on the
inside of the door of the shed to prevent the possibility of surprise
while he was engaged below. He took with him, too, a heavy ebony
walking stick to replace the crowbar with which he tested his path.

Leaving his lamp on the last step, he made his way across the now
lighted vestibule and through the great doorway. He decided to go
right through to the end of the gallery where he had hitherto not
penetrated, and then attempt the other doors. On the way, however, he
came to the staircase leading to the balconies, and an exploration of
these shut his eyes for a long time to his original intention. They
were loaded like the main floor with the same bewildering array of
beauty. Cases of jewelled ornaments of priceless value stood all
about. Strange and wonderful fabrics glittered and shimmered under the
blazing light, till his eyes ached and his brain reeled under the
strain. It was in pausing to look over the balustrade at the sight
below that his eyes alighted on that which quickened his curiosity. At
the far end of the gallery behind a tall case he saw a low arched
doorway. Only pausing sufficiently to rest the path before him he
hurried to the spot. He paused some distance from the door, and looked
it over suspiciously. It was not more than eight feet high and three
feet wide. On its lintel again he found inscribed the three mystic
groups of characters. The whole face of the door was filled by the
figure of a man carved in high relief, whose attitude made him seem
the guardian of the mysterious beyond. "Well, my friend," said Dundas,
"you look as if you were there to warn off trespassers, but I'm going
to chance it." He walked slowly forward, taking every precaution
against surprise. He was within two paces of the figure when, without
sound or warning, the door slid sideways into the thickness of the
wall, opening up a corridor that led to the left.

"I wish," said Alan, without moving further, "that this place were not
so full of automatic machinery. It's uncanny when the wretched things
go off by themselves. Enough to give one the creeps. I seem to have
arrived at the back door." He advanced cautiously and peered into the
passage. It curved away into an unknown distance, evidently the
segment of a circle. It was quite empty, and was lighted from above by
tiny clusters of globes. "Looks fairly safe," he said, and, stepping
carefully, he walked slowly down the passage. In a few minutes he saw
ahead of him the break of another doorway, and when he reached it he
found it similar to the one he had just left. Again, as he walked
towards it, came the noiseless movement as it disappeared. From the
distance he had walked Dundas estimated that here was the entrance to
the adjoining gallery, and the first glance showed that he was right.
He had become so used to the absolutely unexpected that by now he
would have been surprised to come across anything normal, but the
sight that met his eyes brought him to a breathless full stop. "I
think I'll pass this." Even from where he stood he could see enough to
tell him that to enter the new gallery would test his nerves to the
uttermost. In shape and size it was identical with the one he had just
left, but beyond that and the matter of lighting, they were as far
apart as the Poles. In the one, beauty beyond conception, in the other
horrors that were grim and revolting beyond the distorted images of a
nightmare. Alan felt a sensation of physical sickness as his
fascinated eyes took in the scene before him. It was as if the door
had opened on a vast human slaughter-house. Everywhere his eyes fell
they fell on severed limbs and tortured forms, arranged in attitudes
grotesque and horrible. Instead of a wealth of beauty and encased art,
his eyes encountered repulsive fragments of humanity. In the distance,
at the far end, he could catch the glitter of steel and glass, and in
the balconies above he could see cabinets whose contents sent shivers
of repulsion through him. It was some time before his shrinking senses
realised the meaning of the sight. To the trained eye it would have
been at once apparent, but to Dundas, who had never before encountered
such an exhibition, the shock at first deprived him of his reasoning
powers. "It's beastly, and it's hideous, but I might have expected to
find a biological section in this bazaar. My aunt! How would Dick
Barry revel in this butcher's shop. I suppose this would send his soul
into drivelling ecstasies. I guess I'm not likely to find any traps
here. There can be nothing about the place to keep off visitors that
would be any worse than the place itself." Muttering to himself, he
stepped forward. "I might as well look round."

A medical man would have found nothing in the gallery that would have
repelled him, and would doubtless have found in the modelled horrors
matters of intense interest; but to Alan, who was as unused as the
average layman to coming into contact with vividly realistic
representations of the internal economy of humanity, the experience
was both grisly and disgusting. In spite, however, of his physical
distaste of the investigation, he forced himself to go through with
it. Modelled dissections of every conceivable and inconceivable kind
were arrayed through the length of the gallery, and after a little
while, even from his elementary knowledge of such matters, Dundas saw
that the whole arrangement had been made in a carefully ordered
system. He found that each model was accompanied by a cabinet, and the
contents of the cabinets held him for uncounted minutes as he went
through them. In each one in a special compartment he found a flat
metal case fastened with an easily opened clasp. Each of the cases
contained a single remarkable book--a book about eighteen inches long
and twelve inches wide, that opened along its width, and not its
length. Alan had given up guessing as futile, but the material from
which the volumes were made caused him as much curiosity as their
contents. The leaves were as thin as tissue, but perfectly opaque, and
with a beautiful glossy surface. After a timid experimental attempt,
he found that all the strength of his fingers was insufficient to tear
or damage them in the slightest. They were not paper, certainly, and
Dundas, after comparing them mentally with other material he knew of,
put the question out of his mind with a shrug of his shoulders.

Their contents were as remarkable as the books themselves. Each opened
page bore on one side a diagram, and on the other a closely printed
array of characters, evidently an explanation of the diagram. All the
illustrations bore on the model connected with the cabinet. They were
done in colours, and even to the inexperienced eye showed exquisite
care in every detail. Alan skimmed through gruesome volumes with
wondering eyes, picking up here and there traces of the wonderful
system with which the arrangement of the models and the illustrations
had been made. The remainder of the contents of the cabinets was
beyond his ken. He found flasks hermetically sealed full of fluids,
coloured and colourless, and jars holding chemicals, some of which he
recognised, and others the identity of which he could not even guess
at. There were strange knives and stranger instruments, and time went
on. He stood for a long time lost in admiration before a series of
life-sized human figures of colourless glass. In one the entire
nervous system was shown in thin white lines. In another the whole
circulatory system down to the tiny capillary vessels was traced in
red and blue. He saw the human digestive arrangements completely shown
in a third, and he told himself that if ever Doctor Richard Barry, his
especial pal, gained entrance to that gallery, he foresaw that nothing
short of dynamite would ever get him out again.

It was when he had arrived at the other end of the gallery in front of
the great closed doors that he came on another mystery that racked his
brains. Set fairly in the middle before the doors was a replica of the
seated statue in the vestibule, and in front of it was a small
circular table. The table was covered with a glass dome set in a rim
of metal, and under the glass rested an instrument similar to the one
the statue held in its hands. It was a circlet of metal, apparently
made to fit the human head, and attached to it on either side were
wires, the other ends of which were attached to a small cylindrical
box some four inches in length and an inch in diameter. One end of the
cylinder was metal-covered, the other was filled with some transparent
substance that appeared to be a lens, and that was all he could make
of the device after a long and careful examination. He attempted to
raise the glass dome in order to inspect the instrument more closely,
but it resisted his efforts. Whatever its use, simple as it appeared
to be, Alan came to the conclusion that it must be of prime importance
in the gallery, both from the position in which it was placed and from
its association with the statue. As it was evidently not meant to be
interfered with by inexperienced hands, Dundas desisted from his
attempts. He felt that by tampering with the exhibits, a novice might
do irreparable damage, and he left the solution of the problem to
wiser heads.

Throughout his wanderings he had pursued the policy of touching
nothing without replacing it exactly where he had found it, and in
many instances he restrained his curiosity to handle unknown objects
from fear of disastrous consequences. Afterwards he made his way to
the balconies. His visit was short and somewhat startling. Science is
no respecter of conventions, and Alan was still able to blush, and
after a brief and breathless inspection of its astonishing exhibits he
fled below to the milder atmosphere of diseased and dissected
humanity. On the foot of the stairs he paused and addressed a figure
of a gentleman who had discarded his skin and was dressed somewhat
unattractively in his muscles.

"By gad, sir! If I had a maiden aunt, I'm blessed if I'd take her up
there with me. It's no place for innocence like mine."

He paused a while, and then made his way to the great doors in search
of an exit, but try as he would they defied every effort to open them,
and after wasting an hour in fruitless search he wandered back to the
rear doorway.

Standing in the curved corridor outside the entrance to the biological
gallery, Alan paused some time to consider his position. Before him,
in the direction in which he had come, the corridor curved away out of
sight. Mentally reviewing his exploration up to date, he came to the
conclusion that the six galleries all radiated from the central
vestibule, and were connected at their further end by the passage he
was then in, estimating the length of each gallery at two hundred
feet, and the vestibule at sixty in diameter, it meant that the
passage would form a circle of about four hundred and sixty feet in
diameter or roughly fourteen hundred feet round. The calculation
brought the magnitude of the subterranean building home to him with
renewed force. Before going any further he paced slowly back to the
entrance of the art gallery, and walked past it in order to find if
the corridor was continued further in that direction. Sixty feet
beyond he found himself faced by a blind wall that showed no sign of
break or opening. Dundas looked the wall over, and accepted the
situation philosophically. Evidently it was intended that he should
continue on in the direction from which he had started. Then he
retraced his steps past the medical gallery, prepared for further
discoveries. As he expected, he came on a third entrance equi-distant
from the other two, and exactly similar.

His past experience prepared him for what followed, though he relaxed
none of his precautions against unpleasant surprises. As before the
third door slid gently out of sight, leaving him free ingress to the
gallery beyond. Alan stared into the new section, whistling softly.
His capacity for astonishment was being dulled by surfeit. "Just so,"
he said to himself, breaking off in the middle of a bar. "Art,
biology, and now, if I'm not mistaken, this exhibition represents
science, and I suppose I won't be able to begin to understand a
thousandth part of it. By Jove! What a joy for investigators, born and
unborn, before they get to the bottom of this little lot." He stood
inside, looking round with uncomprehending eyes. For glitter and
splendour the sight was almost equal to the art gallery. Everything
round him gave evidence of the same systematic grouping he had
observed before. There was a difference, though, that he did not
observe for some time. The walls were furnished with shelves that
almost covered them, and the shelves were closely packed with the flat
metal cases that he had found in the biological gallery containing
books. Without removing them he examined the cases, and found each
marked with characters inlaid in enamel on its visible edge.

"Not much help to me," he commented, looking over the mighty array.
"And not much to anyone else, I'm afraid, unless there is a key
somewhere, and even the ingenuity that was responsible for this can
hardly have worked that out." He turned to look over the shining array
in front of him. "That's a cock-eyed-looking spectroscope, anyhow--
that is, if it is a spectroscope. Apparently this is the optical
section. That may be a microscope, but what the deuce the
picturesque-looking contraption beside it is I don't know"--(a pause
while he stared into a cabinet close by)--"Humph! Lenses, I should say;
but what a collection. Now, what's the meaning of this?"

"This" was a highly-polished metal plate affixed to the cabinet. It
bore, inlaid in white enamel, a number of dots in rows. There was a
character inlaid in red opposite each row. There was one dot to start
with, then two, and so on up to ten. Alan studied the plate for a few
minutes, and then an idea came to him.

"By Jove, this looks like a decimal system of numeration. The red
characters are their figures from one to ten. The tenth line has two
characters. The first the same as the one on top, and the second a new
one."

Below, in bright blue inlay, were three characters together. Alan
compared them with the red in the upper portion of the plate.

"If my idea is correct, and it looks like it, this cabinet is numbered
eight hundred and thirty-two. Now, why numbered at all?" He looked
around, and his eyes fell on the book shelves. "Of course! They have
the reference library on the walls, and the marks on the books are
numbers!" He had no pencil, but with his pocket-knife he scratched a
copy of the numerals on the polished stick he carried and went to the
book shelves. He was delighted to find that his surmise was correct,
and that without difficulty he could read the mystic characters.
Before long he came to those he sought. On ten successive metal cases
he found the marks corresponding to eight hundred and thirty-two. The
volumes he extracted from their cases were similar to those he had
examined before in the adjoining gallery. As he had expected, each of
the volumes he looked into were undoubtedly, from their illustrations,
connected with the case of lenses. A closer examination of the objects
around him showed that each was numbered, and from the numbers he
proved his theory by finding the volumes that bore the number of each
exhibit. In some instances a single model had as many as twenty
volumes of reference--volumes of absorbing interest even to his
untutored mind. Alan wandered through the bewildering array, bitterly
bewailing his woeful ignorance of all but the most elementary ideas of
science. It was tantalising beyond words to know just enough to
stimulate his curiosity to bursting point. There was one consolation,
however. He was sure that no individual professor of physics or
natural philosophy would be very much better off than he. The range of
subjects was too wide for the brain of any one man to be familiar
with. Chemistry, electricity, optics, geology, metallurgy, he
recognised, but there were scores of other matters that were to him as
Hebrew or Sanskrit would be to an infant. Alan summed the matter up,
leaning over the balustrade of the balcony and looking down on the
dazzling scene beneath. "It will take fifty commissions fifty blessed
years to learn a fiftieth part of the blessed things. But what they do
find out will be worth the work. This gallery will make the scientific
world hum like swarming bees and by George, I'll be here to hear it
hum." He paused reflectively. "Anyway, if I stay here till I grow
grey, it's a moral that I won't by any wiser by myself." He roused
himself and looked at his watch. It was nearly three o'clock. He had
been too absorbed to notice how the time went. He felt hungry, but his
curiosity was stronger than his appetite, and he resolved to try the
remaining three galleries that day.

He hurried from the gallery to the exit, and turned again down the
corridor to the left. He felt so certain of finding the next door
where he expected it that it caused no surprise when he arrived at it.
There was a sub-conscious wonder as to the contents of the next
gallery. "Art, medicine, science, and now--" He stepped towards the
closed door. "Quite so," he went on, as the door vanished into the
wall. "Quite natural and proper. We have now arrived at the machinery
section of the blessed exhibition, and of course, I know just about as
much of machinery and engineering as I do about the other things.
Alan, my son, you are beyond doubt a monument of blithering ignorance.
Pshaw!" He passed through the doorway. It was an impressive sight
under the white rays of the swinging lights, as they flashed on crank
and shaft and wheel, and were reflected back from a forest of
mechanical wonders. Some of the machines he judged were models, and
others were the real thing, but as to their meaning or purpose his
mind was a blank. There were intricate monsters and delicate
exquisitely-wrought models side by side. The dislike of the ordinary
mortal for interfering with unknown contrivances was strong upon him.
A desire to see the wheels go round was curbed by the thoughts of
unknown consequences. That the wheels would go round if properly
treated he had no doubt, but as to his own ability to supply the
proper treatment he had no illusions.

Alan took out his pipe, and smoked thoughtfully as he went down aisles
and gangways. He peered curiously amongst cranks and levers, and
speculated idly on the reasons for what he saw, admiring the wonderful
workmanship and finish. One fact that he had noticed before was
impressed on his mind with renewed force. Whatever metal work he came
across was perfectly free from speck or tarnish. Every least part was
as free from corrosion or rust as on the day (how immeasurably far
hack!) it left the hands of the craftsmen. It seemed as if these
long-dead workmen had learned the secret of rendering their work
imperishable. If the metal these great monsters were built of was for
the most part steel, as he imagined, then it was a form of steel such
as our world knew nothing of. Again, too, throughout all the galleries
he had explored there was a total absence of dust. This, too,
impressed him greatly It gave the whole wonderful place the air of
having been daily swept and tended with scrupulous care. Wherever
Dundas went this spotlessness brought with it a feeling he could not
shake off of some ever-present but invisible caretaker. As he put it
to himself, as he wandered through the galleries he expected at each
turn to find some uniformed attendant demanding that his stick should
be left at the entrance, and offering to sell him a catalogue for
sixpence.

Alan spent a long hour wandering through the maze of machinery, every
minute of which went to convince him more forcibly than ever of his
colossal ignorance of engineering. Finally, he decided that he would
rack his brain no longer, and, if possible at least, take a glance at
the other two galleries before ending his investigations for the day.

However, he was not destined to leave the gallery without an
adventure, and it was one that gave him a practical illustration of
the unwisdom of meddling with unknown forces. A few yards from the
rear doorway, on his way to the corridor, he paused to look at a
machine that had previously attracted his attention by its apparent
simplicity. It consisted solely of a burnished shaft of metal
protruding from a cylindrical casing, the whole being mounted on a
plain, but apparently strong stand. On one side of the casing was a
lever, terminated by an inviting-looking grip for the hand. There was
nothing about it to show rhyme or reason for its being there, still
less to show its possible utility in the scheme of things. It looked
more like an unfinished portion of a machine than the completed
article, and was certainly the least complex-looking in the gallery.
Standing behind it, Alan's hand fell unconsciously on the lever. He
attempted to push it away from him, but it resisted the effort. Then
he drew it towards him, only slightly--so slightly that he had reason
to believe afterwards that he owed his life to the lightness of his
touch. There was no sound from the machine itself, but in the corridor
opposite the open door came a crash as of a bursting shell that echoed
through the gallery like the crack of doom. For a moment the view was
obscured by dust and smoke, and the concussion sent Dundas reeling
backwards...When he had recovered from the shock the smoke cleared
somewhat, and through the thinning mist showed havoc. The corridor and
the doorway were partially blocked by masses of broken cement, torn
down by the invisible force he had liberated, and the thickness of the
wall showed a great irregular gaping hole, large enough to form a
small room. Alan examined the damage with no small concern. His
previous experience had taught him the adamantine strength of the
material of the structure. "What power was this," he wondered, "that
could deal so terrible a blow?" The wall was torn and riven like so
much clay, and he realised that he had again been very close to a
fatal ending to his exploring. He scrambled out into the passage
inwardly registering a vow that in future nothing would induce him to
lay his hand on any contrivance without the absolute certainty that it
would be harmless.

It took him a little while to recover from the effects of his
adventure, and to decide that for the time being it was useless to
attempt to clear the passage. Then he made his way along to where he
knew the next door would be found. A few minutes later Dundas was
standing in the entrance to the fifth gallery. His recent scare was
completely forgotten, and the joy of discovery was in his heart.
Gallery number five was a library. From end to end in splendid array
it was filled with book shelves, all closely packed with metal cases
similar to those he had examined before. The shelves stood about
fifteen feet in height, and covered the whole floor space with the
exception of the spaces left for access, and where room had been left
at regular intervals for tables. The lighting was the same as in the
other galleries, but so arranged that no shadows fell in any of the
narrow gangways between the shelves. Alan walked from one end of the
gallery to the other, whistling cheerfully. He tried the great doors
leading to the vestibule in a perfunctory way, and, as he expected,
they were immovable. One thing puzzled him. He could see no ladder nor
any apparent means of gaining the higher shelves beyond his reach. It
might have been an oversight, he thought, but if it were it would be
the only oversight he had so far come upon. He approached the nearest
book shelf and examined it closely.

Equi-distant from the two ends, and about five feet from the floor,
was a small metal disc set in the framework. On the disc were two
small buttons, one red and the other white.

Alan looked at them thoughtfully for some time, then, summoning up his
courage, he pressed the red one with tentative finger. Nothing
happened. Then he tried the white. The instant his finger touched it
the whole case subsided silently, but quickly, until the disc was on a
level with the floor. The movement was so swift that he had no time to
step back before the case had come to rest, but so perfect was the
controlling mechanism that there was not the slightest jar when the
motion stopped. "By Jove!" he muttered, "no need for ladders here.
Ripping idea. There's another disc in reach now. I'll try it again."
Obedient to his touch, the case again subsided, and when it came to
rest with the second disc on the floor level, he found that the top
row of books was within easy reach. "Good business," said Alan aloud,
cheerfully. "Now it follows logically that the shelves will come up
again, and if I'm not mistaken that is what the red button is for." He
stooped and put his theory to the test. In a moment the case rose in
answer to the pressure of his finger to its original position, leaving
him lost in admiration at the wonderful skill that had carried out the
idea. In spite of the temptation to examine the books, he curbed his
curiosity. It was growing late, and he determined, if possible, to
have a glimpse of the last gallery that day. Closing his ears to the
siren call of the close-packed shelves, he paced slowly back to the
corridor. At a rough estimate that gallery must have held a million
books, and he smiled grimly at the thought of an attack against such
odds, backed, as he well knew, by the fact of their being
indecipherable. The thought of the latter fact brought forth a sigh of
irritation. "All the care for nothing--all the work lost. What light
on the dark places of the world's knowledge lay buried there." He put
the thought from him impatiently.

Perhaps after all there would be a key. Surely the vast intelligence
that had planned it all had left some connecting link. The idea eased
his mind, and he turned in the doorway with hopeful eyes on the array
of silent witnesses.

Six o'clock. For a while he hesitated in the corridor. Then he made up
his mind. At least he would take one look at the last gallery.
Turning, he walked down the corridor, fully expecting to find the last
entrance similar to the others, but his hopes were banished abruptly.

Round the curving corridor from the library door the passage
terminated in an unexpected obstacle, a wall pierced with a doorway
and a closed door. It was the door itself rather than the unexpected
ending of the passage that brought an astonished ejaculation to his
lips. The door was not large, but was set deep in the massive wall. It
was made of metal of some kind, and on it was carved or moulded the
figure of a man, and in the figure Dundas recognised the domineering
presence of the statue in the vestibule There was the same fierce
relentless face staring into his, and the whole attitude of the figure
standing with folded arms seemed to warn the explorer against further
progress. On the lintel above again occurred the three sets of
characters which he had come to regard nor only as the names of the
figures in the vestibule, but also as a danger signal. "Now, whatever
in the name of all that's wonderful is the meaning of this? From the
look of it I should say that the last gallery will be the most
interesting, and, if I'm not mistaken, the most exciting. But, my
regal-looking friend"--here he nodded familiarly at the figure on the
door--"I don't propose to start asking you for admittance at this hour
of the day. I'm too tired and hungry to tackle the riddles you are
likely to ask, and I guess I'm likely to want all my wits about me
when I do start. So if you'll pardon my very brief visit I'll leave
you until the morning."

Alan was not altogether disappointed. As he scrambled over the debris
in front of the machinery gallery he told himself that he was more
tired than he realised. The final climb up the winding stairway to the
shed convinced him of this, and when he at last locked the door behind
him and stood in the fading daylight he felt he had done a good day's
work.

How little and insignificant his house looked after what he had been
through, and yet, he thought, if he chose to speak now, that home
would become for the time being the centre of the whole world. The
eyes of every nation would be turned on it, and its name and his would
be on every tongue.




CHAPTER XIII


EARLY next morning Dundas returned to the absorbing mystery. The extra
precaution taken to guard the sixth gallery assured him that it
contained something that would compensate him for the trouble he
expected in gaining access to it. His first visit was to the doorway
he had discovered on the previous evening. In spite of an heroic
resolution that he would make his way to the spot with his eyes closed
to the allurements of the galleries he had already investigated, the
attraction of the various wonders he had to pass proved irresistible,
and the journey, which should have taken no longer than two minutes
from the vestibule to the corridor, occupied two full hours instead.

Arrived at his destination, Alan made a cautious and exhaustive
examination of the door and its surroundings. An hour spent in a
minute scrutiny of every inch of its surface left him without the
slightest inkling to its secret. There was nothing in its appearance
to indicate which way it opened or to suggest that it was only a blind
to induce the unwary to waste time and temper over. He sounded the
surrounding wall with painstaking care, in the hope of finding a
device similar to that which had first given him entrance from the
surface, but without success. Whatever mechanism existed for gaining
the mysterious beyond, it was a mechanism that so far he had not
encountered.

Another hour went by, and leaning against the wall of the corridor,
Alan told the fierce-eyed image on the door just exactly what he
thought of the methods used by him and his friends to keep the gallery
inviolate. The outburst of temper relieved him somewhat, and was
received with perfect equanimity by the image. The futility of his
anger made Dundas smile in spite of his irritation He told himself
that, brave as he was in the face of the graven image before him, such
a demonstration before its original in the flesh would have been quite
another matter. "I'm quite prepared to bet that even his most intimate
friends, if he ever had an intimate friend, wouldn't have cared to
take a liberty with him." After a pause, he went on, still regarding
the figure with a frown, "Yes, your Majesty, you have exhausted my
resources at this end for the present, at any rate. The only thing to
be done is to return to the vestibule and try the main doorway, and I
doubt if I'll get much satisfaction out of that."

Since the day of his narrow escape in the vestibule, he had trodden
only a carefully marked course from the foot of the stairway to the
entrance of the art gallery. He felt there was no use in taking any
unnecessary risks with that beautiful but treacherous pavement. Now,
however, he determined to examine it thoroughly. Working his way from
the centre, he carefully approached the door of the sixth gallery,
which was the one next to the art gallery on the right. He was not
long in finding he had need for all his care. As in the previous
attempt to find a path for himself, a noiseless chasm opened at his
feet under pressure from the stick he carried with him. Alan stepped
back alarmed.

After considering the situation, he again sounded the floor before
him, with a view to ascertaining the extent of the trap. The device,
he found, consisted simply of a nicely balanced section of the
pavement that occupied the whole front of the doorway, with a margin
of about three feet on either side. By working round one end of it he
found that it tipped either way, and that it came so close to the
doorway as to leave only a bare three inches of firm footing. Even if
by a lucky jump he could reach this doubtful coign of vantage, he
would be able to do very little in the way of testing the door, and,
further, would find it almost impossible to reach firm footing again.
There was one hope--a bridge. In spite of his dislike to face the
weary climb to the surface he came to the conclusion that he must make
the journey to get material to span the gulf. It cost him over an
hour, and no little perspiration, before he arrived in the vestibule
again with a plank about twelve feet long, and some ten inches wide,
with which to make the experiment. It was an experiment that occupied
at most some sixty seconds, but they were full of unpleasant incident.
Standing close to the edge of the trap, he lowered the end of his
plank so that it would fall nicely on the firm edge against the door.
The instant the weight of the plank reached its goal a mighty metal
curtain crashed down from above, closing the doorway completely, and
jarred the arms that held the plank so unmercifully that Alan,
perforce, let go. The trap in the pavement completed the wreck of his
hopes and his bridge by swallowing every vestige of them. Only a few
jagged pieces of timber protruding from under the metal curtain
remained to mark the event. The net result of the attempt was to
increase the difficulty of obtaining entrance, and to leave Dundas
with both arms plentifully garnished with splinters as souvenirs.

He regarded the scene of his labours with angry eyes. His only
consolation was that it was better for the plank to have been under
the falling curtain than his body. "I can take a hint," he muttered,
"as well as the next man. I presume that beastly shutter was meant to
warn me to confine my attentions to the back door. Well--we'll see."
He turned to the art gallery, in order to get a better light, and
spent ten minutes picking splinters from his tingling arms. Then he
made his way to the corridor to recommence his investigations on the
closed door. For the rest of the day he tried every imaginable means
of finding the key to the problem, but in this instance he found
himself faced by a riddle that could not be solved by chance.
Somewhere he knew, probably within reach of his hand, was the
mechanism that would give ingress, but so cunningly hidden that the
closest search failed to disclose it. At the day's end he confessed
himself beaten, and returned to the surface an angry and baffled man.
In the days that followed he was to learn patience, and learn it
thoroughly. Day after day went past in never-ceasing search. All the
wonders around him were as nothing compared with the one absorbing
idea that now beset him. For a while the temptation came to him to
publish the news of his discovery, and obtain aid in pursuing his
search, but he put the thought away. To him alone belonged the honour
of solving the mystery, and until he had done so he determined to keep
his secret. In his ardour for his self-imposed task he almost forgot
the lapse of time, and how long it was since he had last been to Glen
Cairn. So deeply had the mystery eaten into his soul that he came to
regard that part of his life as something too distant to worry about.
The only thing that did trouble him was the approaching necessity for
harvesting his crop, and this he put off as long as possible.

One evening he had a visit from Bryce. It was a visit that left Hector
a much puzzled man. Alan had never been a frequenter of the township,
but still his absence of over three weeks had been noticed and
commented upon. At last Bryce, urged by Doris, who scented a hitch in
her plans decided to hunt him up. He found Alan seated at his table
studying a plan that looked like the section of an orange. Alan
greeted his old friend warmly, but Bryce was not slow to notice a
reserve that was foreign to his friend's nature. Alan looked a little
run down, and there were some lines in his forehead that Hector had
not seen there before.

When the first general talk was over, Bryce, who was really concerned,
told Dundas flatly that he was not looking up to the mark. "Fact of
the matter is, old chap," he went on, "you're overworking yourself;
and not only that, I suppose your 'batching' means tinned meat, and no
cooking. It's enough to kill a horse. You'd better get a housekeeper.
Let Doris pick one for you. I know she will be only too glad to help."

Alan met the charges with a slow, friendly smile, "Hec, I'll plead
guilty to the tinned food. But, believe me, that has nothing to do
with my not being up to concert pitch. I'll admit that. As for
overwork would you be surprised to hear that for nearly a fortnight
I've not done a stroke about the place? I'll start picking on Monday,
as I want to get it over. To be as honest with you as I can be, I'm
worried." Bryce looked at him keenly, and hesitated a moment. "So far
as I can help, Alan, call on me. I won't ask any questions, but I'll
admit you have aroused my curiosity." There was a long silence, while
the younger man sat with his chin on his hands, staring blankly in
front of him. Bryce could see that there was a mental conflict going
on, and forebore to speak. At length Dundas broke the silence. "Bryce,
you are the only man I could or would discuss the matter with. I know
you will believe me when I tell you it's a problem that I must work
out for myself, and until I have solved it I must keep my own counsel.
I've been on the point half-a-dozen times of going to you. Perhaps I
may before it's over."

"Tell me one thing," put in Bryce. "Is it anything financial?"

Alan laughed lightly. "I could almost wish it were. In that case I'd
simply turn the matter over to you, and sit with my hands in my
pockets until you had untangled the knot. No; I can tell you this
much. It has nothing to do with my private affairs--or--" and he
emphasised the words with meaning--"with anyone we know of."

Bryce felt an inward relief at the latter part of Alan's speech. For a
while he had begun to think that his wife's match-making plans were at
the bottom of the trouble. "Well, old man, we'll leave it at that.
Only let me help, if I can or when I can."

"There's one thing you can do for me, and no one better, Hec--though
I'm afraid you find me dashed mysterious."

"Hang the mystery--every man has a right to his own secrets. What do
you want me to do?"

"This. Until I have fixed this matter up to my own satisfaction, I am
chained to the vineyard. I want you to choke off any inquiry about my
movements--at the club, for instance. And if you hear of anyone
contemplating looking me up, choke him off, too. One thing I'll
promise you, Bryce. So soon as I'm able to talk to anyone about it,
and, believe me, it's the biggest thing you've ever heard of, you'll
be the first man I'll come to."

Hector willingly promised to aid as far as he could, and, seeing Alan
was not disposed to discuss his troubles further, tactfully let the
matter drop. For an hour the two yarned with their old freedom. Dundas
declined an invitation to the bank, pleading his problem, and asked
Hector to make his peace with Mistress Doris, a task he was warned,
which would be no light one.

After a final whisky, Bryce drove off. He knew enough of Alan to feel
sure that whatever he was up against, it was nothing he need be
ashamed of. But, after being for many years a kind of father-confessor
to his friend, he was sorely puzzled as to the nature of the mystery
that had come, so to speak, from a blue sky.

However, if Hector was puzzled, Doris was more so. She had seen and
talked with Marian Seymour, and had learned enough without asking any
questions to satisfy her as to the result of her plans. But Alan's
behaviour entirely upset her calculations. Two and two in this
instance made anything but four. In her own mind she considered that
Dundas deserved to be shaken, and otherwise treated to feminine marks
of exasperation.

Dundas had for a while at least to leave the great mystery to itself.
He was obliged to engage his pickers, and get his grapes off the
vineyard, and for nearly a fortnight, from sunrise to sunset, he
tramped about with his men, indulging in amateur slave-driving to ease
his irritation at the delay. As the free and independent grape-picker
does not, as a rule, take kindly to a slave-driving process, he gilded
the pill by offering a bonus that made the free and independent ones
submit philosophically to his constant spurring. One man, who was an
exponent of the popular system of "slowing-down," and who preached it
to his fellow-workers, received the surprise of his lifetime. Alan
detected the move in the hour of its birth, and promptly "fired" the
mutineer. The mutineer, having received his money, challenged the
"boss" to put him off the place. Whereupon his fellow-labourers in the
vineyard were treated to an exhibition that gave them a topic of
conversation in many a camp thereafter. The astonished picker was
turned into a lightning-conductor for days of pent-up wrath. After
five lively and bewildering minutes, he lay where he had fallen, with
a vague idea in his head that the "boss" had four arms instead of two,
and knew how to use them all with devilish effect.

"Get up," snapped Alan. The man rose slowly, and prepared to take up
his swag. "Wait--now you can stay on if you like." He was loth to lose
a man, and could not afford the time to procure another. "But if you
stay I promise you a hiding you will remember for a lifetime if I have
any more of your damned nonsense." The mutineer recognised two things
promptly. One was that here was a man whose leg it was not safe to
pull, and the other that the pay was better than was offering
elsewhere. So, putting the best face he could on the matter (and it
was not much of a face, even after it had been bathed copiously), he
accepted the offer. After that episode the work went with a swing.

At last the final dray left, and Alan paid off his unwelcome help.
Never was a vine-grower more disgusted with such a bounteous crop. It
was the reward of a year's hard work, and at another time would have
been the source of unbounded satisfaction. Now he anathematised it as
a bar to his one absorbing interest. Alan wrote a note to Bryce,
asking him to collect his cheque from the winery, and enclosing an
order. Then with the vineyard finally off his mind, he felt himself
free for the great work at last.

A week of exasperating and futile search for the missing key followed
the return of Dundas to the task. As day followed day without result,
his despair of success changed into a grim determination to continue
until he had mastered the riddle. However, as it eventually happened,
his victory came from the least expected quarter, and at a time when
he had temporarily relaxed his efforts. Until the day in question, he
had been in the habit of returning to the homestead for his lunch, but
his dislike for that one-hundred-and-sixty feet of treadmill gave him
a brain-wave. He reflected that it would be a good plan to take some
food with him, in order to save himself the climb. About midday,
therefore, he looked about for a comfortable seat on which to rest
while eating his meal. He found the fragments of cement that had been
detached by the explosion from the machinery-room too "nubbly" for his
liking, and he wandered into the great library.

He seated himself at the table nearest the door and ate his food. When
he had finished, instead of immediately returning to the corridor to
continue his search, he filled his pipe, and leaning back, looked idly
round him as he smoked. Since the day he had at first discovered the
library, he had scarcely entered it, although it had really a greater
fascination for him than any of the galleries. Now, however, the
thought came to him that he might at least glance at a few of the
books. It was whilst considering which of the shelves he would first
give his attention that his eye was taken by a variation in colour of
one single book-cover in all the rows within range of his vision.
While every other shelf in sight showed dull, metallic covers
uniformly, one the nearest to the door, was broken by one single
volume cased in bright white metal.

The distinction was so great as to invite attention, and Alan knew
well that there was some special object in the alteration. Without
hesitation he rose from his seat, and having obtained the volume, he
returned to the table. He slipped the book from its casing, and spread
it open before him. The first glance at its contents galvanised him
into quivering excitement. The page he had opened showed what was
undoubtedly a sectional plan of the whole of the subterranean
building. With trembling fingers he turned to the beginning, and went
from page to page with burning interest. As his eye scanned each plan
in turn, he found each section, from the entrance door at the surface
onwards, marked, with its means of entrance set out in detail.
Finally, he turned to the page showing the closed door in the
corridor. It was pictured in minute detail so as to be quite
unmistakable. On the opposite page was a picture showing part of the
interior of the library. It was the rear wall containing the small
entrance. Each of the great bookcases against the wall was clearly
shown in detail, even to the white-cased book he was holding in his
hand. There was this difference, however; in the far left-hand corner
in the diagram was a small square of books blocked out with a red
blot.

Carrying the book with him, Alan went to the corner but could see
nothing unusual in the spot indicated by the red mark. Comparing the
diagram carefully with the shelves before him, he attempted to draw
from its place one of the marked volumes. For a moment it resisted his
efforts, until with a stronger tug he pulled not the book, as he
intended, but a small door about two feet square, which had been made
to imitate the surrounding books. Even the closest examination failed
to indicate its existence until it was actually opened, so carefully
had the imitation been carried out. With a cry of pleasure. Dundas
looked into the secret cavity. "At last! At last!" he said to himself,
again and again; for let into the wall at the back of the recess was a
short, heavy lever. Without waiting to consider results, he grasped
the handle before him, and drew the lever down in the slot that held
it. As he did so there came a deep metallic boom from the corridor
outside, and Alan scarcely waited to push the book he held back into
the open cupboard before running out to see the effect of his act.
When he had arrived at the passage, and gained the scene of his weeks
of tormenting search, his delight found vent in a loud hurrah. The
metal door had disappeared into the pavement beneath, and the path was
open before him.

Taking his stick, he stood in the doorway and surveyed the new
territory with eager eyes. Beyond the wall the corridor widened out
into a vestibule about forty feet square. It was empty except for an
object that Alan looked at with very little satisfaction. It was
another statue of the domineering figure in the outer vestibule. He
had looked at it too long and too often on the door to have much
admiration left for it. Bare as it was, the new chamber had a beauty
that was indescribable. Walls, floor, and ceiling were composed of the
most exquisite coloured marble and precious decorative stone that were
ever gathered together. The great lustrous globes that blazed from the
ceiling were reflected from thousands of multi-coloured surfaces, The
whole effect was one of barbaric splendour, but so perfectly had the
blending of the colours been carried out that in the whole wonderful
decorative scheme there was not one inharmonious note. As his eyes
drank in the beauty of the chamber before him, Dundas became aware of
one feature that drew his attention from the gorgeous colouring around
him. The left wall of the chamber was broken by an arched doorway that
differed from all the others he had yet seen. In the first place it
was quite double the size of those opening on to the corridor, and
again it was already open. From where he stood he could see that,
instead of a door, it was closed by a curtain of some beautiful
scarlet shimmering fabric that cut off the view of the gallery beyond.
Everything seemed to indicate that his way was now open to the
solution of the final mystery, and Alan would have accepted the
position as such but for the presence of the forbidding statue that
stared at him from its pedestal with an intensity that was almost
hypnotic.

Testing the pavement as he advanced, Dundas walked slowly towards the
figure in the centre of the chamber. When he reached it and paused
beneath it he was standing with the curtained archway right before
him. So far so good, but he knew now from experience how little
reliance could be placed on appearances, so he advanced with unabated
caution. Prepared as he was for surprises, the one that overtook him
was perhaps the one furthest from his thoughts. Without a sound or
warning, and with overwhelming suddenness, he found himself in total
darkness. It was not the misty darkness of night, but a dense
impenetrable rayless blackness that could be almost felt. It was
overpowering in its intensity. The shock of its coming held him
motionless and petrified. On the instant he realised the peril of his
position. He felt for his matches, and as he did so remembered they
were lying on the table in the library where he had eaten his lunch.
Holding himself well in hand, he tried to recollect his bearings from
the entrance in order to try to regain the corridor. But even as he
stood--and it could not have been for more than a few seconds--
something else happened. Close beside him, so close that he almost
cried out in amazement, was the sound of a long, deep human sigh. He
swung round. Again it came, this time further away, but intensely
real. Then he stood straining his senses in that horrible black
stillness to catch the sound again, and, waiting, he realised that his
movements had made him lose his bearings for the corridor.

How long he stood there he could not afterwards remember. It seemed
ages until the crowning terror came and wiped all sense of time from
his stricken mind. Suddenly the air about him seemed full of tremulous
palpitating sound. It seemed as if, all about him, thronged a
whispering ghostly multitude. For a little while the sound rose and
fell, and seemed to die away in unmeasured distances. Then again came
a little space of silence. Then the stillness was broken by a sound so
awful that Dundas felt a cold sweat break out over his body. It was a
shriek, inhuman and evil, that cut into the darkness again and again.
The sound broke off suddenly, and was followed by a burst of horrible
laughter. Then came a trampling and scuffling of feet around him,
bestial snarls, shouts of laughter, and again silence. Alan stood with
clenched hands fighting back the cry that rose to his lips. He dared
not move. A single step in any direction might mean death, and yet he
knew that his racked nerves could not stand the strain much longer.
Again there came the sound of movement in the darkness, this time at a
distance. Voices whispered tensely in some strange unknown tongue, and
then came a sound more awful than anything yet. It was a groan of
agony as though wrung by damnable tortures from some straining body.
Somewhere near by a hellish work was being done. Some pain-racked
creature writhed in hideous torment. There were guttural ejaculations,
the clank of metal, then scream on scream pierced the paralysed
listener through and through. He realised that the sounds were coming
closer. The horrible darkness seemed full of bestial obscene ravings.
He felt as if a legion of fiends surrounded him. Then close behind him
the scream rang out again. The strain snapped, and sheer panic seized
him. With a cry he rushed blindly away in the darkness, to be stopped
by charging into a wall. Scarce feeling the shock of the impact, he
ran forward again, heedless of where he went, for the scream had
changed into a diabolic howling. Once more his wild rush was stopped.
Reckless with fear, he blundered forward again. Then as he ran
something soft and clinging enfolded him for a moment. With a wild
shout he flung it away from him. His knees gave way beneath him, and
with out-flung arms he fell to the floor.

Then came a great wonder. Even as he fell the sounds ceased, and the
light burst out again, and, panting and half sobbing, he found himself
lying with trembling limbs spread out on the pavement of the sixth
gallery.




CHAPTER XIV


FOR a long time Alan lay face downwards, with his head resting on his
arms to recover his scattered senses. That he had been the victim of a
fiendish device he now realised, and the realisation that his panic was
due to nothing but a trick did not serve to heighten his self-esteem. He
told himself that he might have expected some such assault on his
imagination. That it had been deliberately planned to break the nerve of
the discoverer he felt sure, and, lying there, a nebulous idea came to
his mind as to how it had worked. He felt very little consolation in the
reflection that not one man in a thousand would have kept his head and
his courage. "That's twice I've been scared stiff by nothing in this
dashed museum. What a beastly nightmare it was while it lasted. I
suppose if I had not been in such an infernal hurry to get in I would
have found a warning in that book in the library." He sat up with a
sigh, and looked round him. "Well, I'll be hanged if there seems to be
much to make such a fuss about. Good Lord! Are they real?"

Alan pulled himself to his feet slowly and stood staring down the
gallery. The great room, large as it was, was slightly shorter than
the others--probably by as much as the width of the ante-chamber. Its
contents were few in number, but as Alan looked them over he found
they lacked nothing in interest. The whole of the far end nearest the
main doorway from the vestibule was occupied by what appeared to be a
small temple built within the gallery. It was about thirty feet wide
and sixty feet long. The architecture was somewhat Grecian in design.
Two steps the whole width of the front led up to a portico supported
by two pillars at either end, and the middle of the front was filled
by a closed doorway. Fairly in the centre of the gallery, and about
twenty feet from the steps of the portico, was set a heavily built
chair with a low back, and it was so placed that anyone occupying it
would be seated squarely facing the temple. It was neither the temple
nor the chair that had drawn the startled question from Alan's lips,
and brought him to his feet.

The portico was occupied by three nude female figures. One stood
leaning beside the doorway, with her arm outstretched, beckoning him
forward. Another was reclining on the pavement near her feet, leaning
on her elbow, with her other arm upraised. The third was seated on the
step of the portico. One hand was clasped about her knee, while the
forefinger of the other was pressed to her smiling lips with a gesture
of mischievous mystery. Fascinated by their glorious beauty, Dundas
walked slowly towards them. Each figure was the embodiment of perfect
grace and loveliness, and the supreme craft that had moulded them had
endowed them with all but life. What made the deception more perfect
was the fact that the figures were tinted in such a manner that even
when he stood close beside them he could scarcely realise that art,
and not nature, had given them being. Alan looked from one smiling
face to another. The spirit of mischief that animated the three found
reflection in himself, and he raised his cap and bowed ceremoniously.

"Upon my word, girls, I don't wonder at your fuss when you heard me
coming. If you'd only sent me word, I'd have waited until you had
completed your toilet, although it looks as if you had been locked out
and your raiment locked in. A most embarrassing situation, I'll
admit." He looked up at the door in front of him. Across the lintel
was blazoned a word in half a dozen characters of burnished gold on
the black background. "Now, can either of you tell me," he asked,
"whether that is the name of the cottage or the name of the owner? At
the same time you might tell me how the deuce you managed to raise
such an infernal (pardon the expression) row, and also which of you
turned out the light? I don't think it was a friendly action, though
it speaks more for your modesty than your sense of humour." His eyes
roved round the gallery inquiringly. "I think, for my own peace of
mind, I had better investigate those beastly noises first. Ah!" For
the first time the peculiar appearance of the walls attracted his
attention. There was no balcony here to detract from their height.
They rose from floor to arched ceiling for forty feet unbroken. At the
first glance they appeared to be covered with a vast perforated metal
screen. Dundas walked up and down, and examined the screen closely
Then he gave vent to a long whistle. The perforations were circular
and varied in size from a foot in diameter down to less than an inch.
They were closely set, and occupied every visible inch of space.
Through their whole arrangement there ran a carefully carried-out
series of artistic designs. What caused the whistle of enlightenment
from Dundas was the discovery that the perforations were really the
larger ends of innumerable metal funnels or horns. "I'm afraid Edison
wasn't the first man to make a phonograph," he muttered, "and if I'm
not mistaken the originators of this exhibition have improved on it
somewhat. Ye Gods! but they took a rise out of me with it. We'll just
experiment a little." He walked back to the curtained entrance, and,
standing on the threshold, smiled to think how his rushing blindly
into that curtain in the dark had completed his panic.

The ante-chamber looked as beautiful and free from guile as when he
first saw it from the corridor. With his eyes on the lights above, he
took two steps on the polished pavement. As he did so the globes
flashed upward into the ceiling, and he found himself in darkness, and
with the darkness came a horrible howl from behind him. Even though he
was prepared for it the sound sent a shiver through his body. Without
waiting to hear more, he darted back into the gallery, and the
comforting light blazed up again. "By Jove! I guess when I leave this
place I'll cross to the corridor with a record sprint. I should say
that the D.T.'s are a maiden's sigh compared with a spell in that
infernal place." He turned and walked back to the "temple." First, he
went right round it, but, save for the doorway in the portico, he saw
no sign of an entrance. The only new light he gained on the subject
was that it was built of metal, and was evidently of enormous
strength. Obviously he must seek from the portico for admittance. Then
there was the chair he had noticed standing so conspicuously before
the steps. It was heavily built, with arms and a low back, but was
perfectly plain. It had no legs, and was really more like a box
furnished as a seat. Beyond the fact that it was made of metal and
immovably fixed in the paved floor, there was nothing that looked
either interesting or dangerous about it. It was for that very reason
that Dundas declined the very obvious invitation to sit in it.
Instead, he looked it over critically, and shook his head. "Not much,
my friends. I don't think I'll take a chair just now. It may be quite
harmless, but I have my doubts." He returned to the portico, and
seated himself beside the laughing statue on the first step.

"By Jove, Flossie, or is it Gertie? No, I think it must be Flossie.
Pardon my familiarity, but you and your friends are just a little--
well--you know. I'm not a stern moralist like MacArthur or Pook, for
instance, but I'm sure Mrs. Grundy would not approve of you. She'd
write letters to the papers about you. You are so lovely that she
would call high heaven to witness that you have a demoralising
tendency. I suppose the three of you know what's inside this
remarkable edifice and how to open the doors. I shouldn't be surprised
if you had the secret hidden about you somewhere." He paused and
looked the three figures over inquisitively. Then he went on. "Though
I'm bound to admit I may be doing you all an injustice, for if you
have the secret in your possession you must have swallowed it. May the
devil admire me if you have any other means of concealing it." He
stood up and paced to and fro before the "temple," reflecting on his
next move. The idea of another weary search for the entrance to the
last secret of the galleries was not one to consider with any relish.
A thought of the book he had left in the library came to his mind, and
he decided to examine it with a view to finding some solution to his
last problem.

The journey to and from the library did not occupy much time. Alan
crossed the ante-chamber, after carefully measuring the distance and
direction with his eye, with one wild dash. His flight took only a few
seconds, but brief as it was it was sufficient to fill the darkness
with unholy noises.

Returned to the sixth gallery, Dundas seated himself on the steps of
the portico, and searched the volume he had brought with him for light
on the subject in hand. In the end he slammed the book shut with an
exclamation of disgust on finding that the last definite information
was that which opened the way to the antechamber. Remained only the
chair. He examined it closely. It appeared to be solid and immovable
and free from any signs of hidden trouble. The gorgeous pavement in
mosaic that it was resting on gave no indication of pitfalls. Alan
pressed it here and there with negative results. "Well," he said to
himself at length, "a chair is intended to be sat on, and I don't
suppose this is any exception. But--I suppose if I do sit on it the
darned thing will play some dirty trick on me." He looked round at the
silent figures on the portico. The three seemed to be convulsed with
suppressed mirth. He shook an admonitory finger at them. "You girls
ought to be blushing for yourselves instead of laughing at me. Upon my
word, you huzzies, I feel embarrassed every time I look at you. I'll
risk it, anyhow."

This last to the chair. He seated himself gingerly, his whole body on
springs ready to fling himself clear in the event of trouble. He was
agreeably surprised, if somewhat disappointed, that nothing unusual
resulted. However, he wanted to think, and the chair was more
comfortable than the steps, so he remained where he was. For ten
minutes he sat with his chin resting on his hand deep in thought.
Suddenly he started and looked round. Then he lapsed again into
reverie, only to sit erect again with nervous expectation. He felt
that some almost imperceptible change was taking place. Not a whisper
of sound broke the intense silence of the vault-like gallery. And
yet--it was uncanny. There was some subtle alteration. What it was he
could not at first determine. For a moment he felt inclined to spring
from the chair. The thought gave place to a resolution to stick to his
seat at all hazards. Sounds might come, but now that he understood
their origin they might be unpleasant, but at any rate they were
harmless. Leaning back with every sense on the alert, he waited
developments. It was the strange quality of the silence that
surrounded him that puzzled him. There was something tense and
strained that woke a memory. Then it flashed across his mind. Years
ago he had stood, one of a horror-stricken crowd at a great fire, and
saw human beings leap to death from the flames, and back to his brain
came the memory of the hush that fell on the throng. A hush of
expectation. The same feeling came upon him now. The strained silence
was the silence of a waiting multitude listening for the coming of
some great event. The air was pregnant with mystery and expectancy.
Alan closed his eyes and gripped his chair with whitening knuckles. He
felt that he was in the midst of a great silent concourse of humanity.

There came a rustle and a suppressed whispering wave. It was unreal,
and yet terribly real. Suddenly he sat erect, quivering in spite of
himself. It took every scrap of resolution he possessed to restrain
his movements. From a great distance came the sound of voices
chanting. The sound was so faint that at first he could only catch it
in fragments. Gradually it grew in strength--nearer and nearer--a
triumphal song from some great processional choir. He listened, lost
in awe and wonder. Never had he heard anything more entrancingly
beautiful as the magnificent torrent of sound that rose and swelled
through the gallery. It filled the great building, as it filled his
whole soul, to overflowing. Every earthly memory seemed swept from his
mind. He sat motionless, intoxicated with the glory that thrilled him
through and through. How long it lasted he could not tell. In regular
cadence the mighty sound rose and then died away to silence as it had
come. Something told Dundas there was more to follow. He realised now,
without the slightest apprehension, that the lights of the gallery had
slowly faded with the sound, leaving only a dim subdued glow. Then it
came. One single perfect voice that broke the throbbing stillness in a
wonder of glorious harmony. It told of life and love, and of death and
war. It told of love splendid and passionate, of deeds that fired the
blood to frenzy, and through it all was a note of terrible
overwhelming sadness. The glow had faded completely. Dundas sat in
utter darkness. The tears he had tried at first to restrain came to
his eyes unchecked. It seemed as if the hands of the invisible singer
had swept the chords of his very heart.

At last the glorious melody faded, and while the air still quivered
with the dying notes, a soft light broke from within the portico.
Dundas watched it unmoved. He was still too deeply under the spell of
the music to heed. The light increased. It came from above and behind
the figures, flinging their shadows in a dark splash across the
pavement to his feet. Suddenly he pulled himself together with an
exclamation. He noticed that the shadowed arms of two of the figures
converged, and the hands met at a point in the pavement immediately in
front of him. In, a moment he was on his knees. Quickly pulling out
his pocket knife, he tried the spot where the shadows converged. It
was the centre of one of the mosaic designs. Instead of being diamond
hard the place was as soft as putty. As he worked eagerly the shadow
faded, and as imperceptibly as they had died away the lights of the
gallery blazed up again.

It was not until long afterwards that Dundas learned that the
mechanism within the chair was so delicately balanced that the warmth
of the body of anyone occupying it would set it in motion. He would
have felt more keenly excited, too, had he known, as he did later,
that, though the music could be repeated, the mechanical adjustment
was such that the shadows from the figures on the portico would not be
thrown on the pavement a second time. Once, and once only, was the
chance given to the discoverer to read the riddle of the "temple."

He soon found that the spot he was able to cut out with his knife was
not more than four inches in diameter, and on penetrating an inch the
blade came into contact with metal. Less than fifteen minutes' work
cleared the whole of the soft cement away. The metal plate beneath
felt loose as he worked, and by inserting the point of the knife along
its edge he quickly raised it from its place. As he looked into the
cavity beneath he gave a little exclamation of pleasure. It contained
a small button protruding from the middle of a burnished saucer. Alan
looked at the button, and from it to the portico. The three figures
laughed back with provoking mirth. For a while he hesitated, his
finger hovering indecisively over the button. What would it be, this
end of his long search--this mystery that had been guarded so
jealously? What could there be more wonderful than he had already
found? Now at the supreme moment he lingered. At last he made up his
mind. With his eyes fixed on the massive doorway, and his heart
thumping against his ribs, he pressed his finger to the button. The
touch was answered by a sonorous, deep-toned thunder as the mighty
doors parted in the middle and disappeared slowly into the wall on
either side, and when the booming echoes died away the path was open
at last.




CHAPTER XV


DUNDAS stood up and stepped towards the portico. Across the now-open
doorway there hung a magnificent curtain that hid the interior from
view. From lintel to step it hung in heavy shimmering lustrous folds
of gorgeous colouring. Awed and expectant, he approached, then, with a
hand that shook, he drew the veil aside and looked within. For a long
time he stood motionless, a prey to a thousand surging emotions. Then,
obeying an instinct he could not have explained, he bared his head,
as, drawn by a resistless fascination, he crossed the threshold. His
feet made no sound as they sank into a soft carpet. His eyes were
blind to the exquisite wonder of his surroundings, where the roseate
glow from the ceiling was shed on a scene of indescribable beauty.
With fast-drawn breath and half-fearful steps he advanced to the
middle of the temple, and there halted beside the one thing within it
that held his gaze to the exclusion of all else. Midway from each end
was placed a great crystal dome fully ten feet in diameter. It was set
in a rim of dull gold that rose about twelve inches from the floor.
Beneath the dome was a low couch of wondrous workmanship, and on the
couch reclined the form of a woman.

Minute after minute passed while Alan stood staring down through the
crystal at the figure before him, as motionless as the figure itself.
The only sound that passed his lips were the words that came as though
torn from his soul: "My God! My God! How wonderful!" Through his brain
raged a mad tornado of thoughts. He did not dare to let his mind dwell
on the idea that flashed through it as he stood. It was mad,
incredible, fantastic, beyond the realms of the most insane
imaginings. His mind had perforce accepted the reality of every other
part of the discovery, but was stopped by the vista that lay before it
now. Long ago he had arrived at the certainty that the origin of the
galleries in point of time could not be counted in thousands of years,
but in millions. He had accepted the idea of the preservation of
matter, organic and inorganic, but this--"No! No! a thousand times
No!" The words came from his dry lips in a hoarse whisper. Yet as he
uttered them, the wild thrill of hope that went through his heart
seemed to give the lie to the words. He pressed his hands wildly to
his eyes as though to shut out and crush down the hopes and the
longings that were struggling for expression. His arms dropped heavily
to his sides, and he looked once more at the wondrous form before him.
As he did so, the certainty that this was no work of the craft of man
came upon him with stunning force. He knew beyond all shadow of doubt
that the glorious being before him was indeed human, and had lived.
For the rest he dared not think.

She was lying with her head pillowed on a large white cushion, that
was almost hidden by the masses of deep gold hair that surrounded her
face, and flowed downwards across her shoulder and bosom, and veiled
almost to her knees the sapphire-coloured covering that was thrown
across her body. Her arms, bare to the shoulder, lay straight beside
her. Where the heavy waves of her hair parted on her shoulders Alan
saw that she was clothed in a robe of palest blue, that came almost to
her throat. The lapse of time had moulded the delicate fabrics that
covered her to every line and contour of her form. But it was the face
surrounded by its surging golden cloud that held his gaze entranced.
It was not merely beautiful; it was lovely, with a loveliness that was
not earthly. The dark shade of her straight, delicate brows, and the
long lashes that rested on her cheeks, formed a strange and wonderful
contrast to her gleaming hair. From her low, broad forehead to the
smooth, polished curves of her chin and throat each feature was
perfect and faultless. The hand of Venus herself might have fashioned
the curves of the sweet alluring lips, and her wayward son might have
wrought for years to place that sweet, shadowy smile upon them. It was
a face that all the gods in Olympus might have held council over, to
blend all their wisdom, mystery, majesty, and beauty, and mould them
into the still countenance of the woman who lay enthroned beneath the
crystal canopy. Yet the face seemed veiled, because the drooped lids
hid the eyes that would light it into life. Over all was a pallor, but
it was not that of death. There was a faint trace of pink on the
smooth white cheeks, and a deeper tone on the soft, curving lips. It
seemed like a spark of life that a touch might either extinguish for
ever or build into an immortal flame.

As his eyes wandered over the noble lines of her recumbent figure,
Alan noticed that her body was worthy of the head it bore. Extended
full length as she lay with her head slightly raised, she seemed far
taller than the average woman, but perfectly proportioned. The
sleeveless robe she wore was fastened on each shoulder with a plain,
knotted ribbon of the same pale blue shade. About neither the throat
nor the marble-white arms was any trace of jewel or ornament. There
was no need for art to enhance the perfection of nature. The deep
sapphire gold-fringed cover that trailed its lustrous folds to the
floor on each side of the couch covered her body but little higher
than her waist, and on it rested beside her the slender, delicate
hands, and Alan's eyes, drinking in their white beauty, thought a man
might well risk life and limb to press them to his lips but once.

It was long before he was able to rouse himself from the trance that
had fallen upon him, to turn his attention to anything besides the
figure before him, or to bring the tumult of his thoughts into orderly
array. Even when, in a measure, he was able to control his mind to
working conditions, and try to make a closer examination of his
surroundings, he was drawn again and again from his work to stand
transfixed before the glorious mystery beneath the crystal dome.

The dome itself was well worth attention. It appeared to be composed
of the same remarkable substance as was the goblet in the art gallery
that defied his efforts to destroy it. Its shape was that of a perfect
hemisphere, and it was so fragile and delicate in appearance that it
seemed as if the lightest touch would shatter it. Indeed so clear and
limpid was it that it appeared as if a great bubble had floated down
and settled on the gold rim that surrounded the couch. Inside the rim
itself the pavement was uncarpeted, and the space showed an exquisite
jewelled mosaic, more beautiful than any he had seen throughout his
exploration.

Alan walked slowly round the dome, and on the opposite side from where
he had first stood he found a short heavy lever that evidently
controlled some mechanism attached to the rim. He refrained from
touching it for a score of reasons that came to his mind. He also
found in convenient positions four grips that had evidently been
fitted for the purpose of lifting the dome from its setting.

When he was able to draw himself away from the enchanted spot he made
a survey of the "temple," for "temple" it would always be to him, and
as his eyes roamed round it, he admitted that the setting was truly
worthy of the jewel. The builders seemed to have lavished on its
interior decoration and fittings every refinement of the wonderful art
they possessed. It was quite sixty feet long by thirty feet wide, and
its walls rose to a height of twenty feet, so that the dome itself
occupied comparatively little space. It appeared as if the craftsmen
had taken the interior of a pearl shell and the pearl itself as the
keynote of their scheme. The walls were a glorious blending of pinks
and blues, with panels of flashing iridescent opal, and the rosy glow
from the myriad of clustered lights on walls and ceiling warmed the
whole into palpitating life. About the great room were set chests and
cabinets of wonderful workmanship, but all built to harmonise with the
general scheme. The floor was covered with a thick soft carpet of
pearly whiteness, through which was worked a delicate pattern in pink,
from the very palest to the deepest coral. There were soft, inviting
lounges and great deep chairs to tempt his weary limbs, but worn out
as he was with the varied emotions of the day Dundas could find no
ease but in restless wandering about the enchanted chamber, ever and
again pausing to gaze once more into the crystal canopy.

On one wall close to the curtained doorway Alan found a cabinet that
contained what appeared to be a switchboard covered with tiny keys set
in glittering rows. As he wandered restlessly from spot to spot he
discovered that only this one of the many cabinets set about the place
was open for inspection, or in any way revealed its contents. He tried
them one after another, but no pulling or coaxing of doors or twisting
of handles would satisfy his curiosity. At length he came on a large
square table set at the far end of the chamber from the doorway, and
on it rested a massive metal chest decorated with a wonderful design
of interlaced figures in high relief. He looked it over idly.
Doubtless it was sealed like the rest. On the front of it near the top
was a knob formed like a grotesque face. He reached forward and turned
the knob tentatively. There was a sharp click, and the whole front
fell forward, disclosing the interior.

Here, at last, was something definite, perhaps some clue to the
mystery. Previous experience had taught Alan for what to look, and
eagerly he drew forth the flat case that he knew contained a book. As
his eyes fell on its cover he gave a low cry of excitement, for
blazoned across it in red enamel was a replica of the characters he
had seen on the lintel of the "temple." With trembling hands he drew
the volume from its case, and as he turned his excitement grew to a
fever, for here it seemed as if his wildest dream would be realised.
He turned from the book at last, and paced the chamber from end to end
again and again, walking with wide, fixed eyes, like one drugged.
Again he returned to the book, poring over each page with awed
fascination. The first page showed the figure of the woman beneath the
dome of crystal. Likeness, colour, and detail were perfect to the
minutest point. Then came diagrams of the lever set in the rim,
showing it moved from the perpendicular position to the horizontal.
Then the figure again with the dome removed. The next picture showed
two objects, one a flask filled with a vivid green fluid, and the
other a curiously shaped syringe. A quick search through the chest
revealed both of the pictured objects.

Alan handled them with delicate care and after replacing them returned
his eyes to the book. The next leaf showed a picture of the right arm
of the woman on the couch, and just above the elbow was drawn a
circle, that was shown again enlarged on the opposite page, and with
it was pictured a short, keen-bladed lancet. Again a picture of the
arm with a long, deep incision laying bare the brachial artery. Then
followed in exact and most minute detail the operation of injecting
the green fluid from the flask. Then was shown an hour-glass, and as
Alan came across each new object he checked it by its original in the
chest. First the glass was shown, with its upper bulb full, and then
the lower. Again there was pictured a flask, the contents of this one
being of a deep ruby colour, and for the second time was shown an
injection of the fluid into the artery. This second injection was
followed by an elaborate and detailed closing of the incision and its
subsequent dressing. A careful examination of the contents of the
chest showed Alan that every article from flask to bandage was in
duplicate, so great was the evident care to guard against accidents.
The last page of all showed, wonder of wonders, the figure on the
couch sitting up and looking with smiling eyes from the page And the
eyes were a deep and wonderful grey.

At last Dundas closed the book. The story he read there was too plain
for any doubt to exist in his mind as to its meaning. Here indeed was
the key to all the hidden knowledge of the galleries, and the deep
significance of it all weighed down on his soul like lead when he
reflected on the terrible responsibility he had assumed in keeping the
secret to himself. On him and him alone rested the burden of deciding
what course to take now. He realised that there was another hitherto
uncounted factor in the problem. Whatever course he took he must later
answer for it to the unknown being who had through countless ages
waited his coming. As he stood beside the crystal canopy with every
pulse thrilling with a new and unknown emotion, he knew that for weal
or woe his life was forever bound up with that of the woman before
him. He was no longer captain of his soul. That and his whole
existence was henceforth in the keeping of another.

Since he had set his foot across the threshold Alan had lost all count
of time. Now he suddenly became aware of an overwhelming sense of
weariness. In spite of it, however, he could not tear himself away
from the regal loveliness of the figure before him. A fear came upon
him that if he left her for an instant some harm might befall her,
and it was only with difficulty that he reasoned himself into a saner
frame of mind. Finally he decided that he could not bring himself to
grapple with the problem in the present distracting surroundings, and
that until he had rested he was unfitted to deal with so weighty a
matter. With a lingering look at the still, glorious face, he turned
resolutely away and passed through the curtain into the outer gallery.
But it was a different man from the one who had entered the "temple"
who now stood on the steps of the portico glancing round him with
indifferent eyes.

It says much for his state of mind that Dundas walked through the
pitch-black ante-chamber with even step, scarce heeding the demoniac
raving that his presence caused. The sounds that a few hours before
had driven him to unreasoning panic he heard unmoved. The hellish riot
that surrounded him in the darkness only brought forth a grim smile of
satisfaction. It would be a bold intruder, who, if he chanced to
escape the pitfalls of the vestibule, would penetrate to the sixth
gallery during his absence.

When he reached the surface at last he found with a detached feeling
of surprise that it was black night, and on entering the homestead,
the watch he had left behind him in the morning showed him that it
wanted but a few minutes to midnight. He took a little food, forcing
himself to eat from a sense of duty, and then turned towards his
bedroom. As he passed the door leading to the verandah something white
on the floor attracted his attention. Stooping he found that it was a
letter, evidently put where he had found it by the man who had brought
his stores from the township. Alan replaced on the table the lamp he
was carrying, and tore open the envelope without glancing at the
handwriting on it. The note it contained ran:

"Dear Mr. Dundas,--Why this utter desertion of your friends? Mr. Bryce
tells me that you are reading hard for some absurd examination (it
must be absurd or it wouldn't be an examination). He and Doris are
having dinner with us on Sunday. I hope you will be able to join us,
and, as this is only Wednesday, you will have ample time to think up
some reasonable explanation. I told Doris I would be writing to you,
and she asked me to tell you that you were a heartless wretch, and to
be sure and spell it with a capital W., but I absolutely refused to
convey so rude a message. Please come.--Yours sincerely, Marian
Seymour."

Alan read the note through to the end, and then let it slip unheeded
through his fingers. There was a faint smile about the corners of his
lips, as through his mind there flashed the memory of a certain night,
was it a century ago, when he took counsel with a caterpillar. He had
an answer to all his questions.




CHAPTER XVI


DUNDAS woke next morning with a clear consciousness of the weighty
matter he was called on to deal with, and as a preliminary he emptied
his head of his difficulty until the time came for him to grapple with
it in earnest. But though he could put problems from his mind for the
time being, he made no attempt to turn his thoughts from the central
figure in the case, nor could he have done so even if he wished. He set
about his house work with a light heart, and for the first time in
many days gave it more than perfunctory attention. He cooked for
himself and enjoyed a good breakfast. Then having cleaned up his
kitchen, he filled his pipe, and, pacing the verandah with his hands
deep in his pockets, took counsel with himself.

He knew he had reached a point when he must obtain assistance from
outside. Not for an instant did he question the certainty that the now
inanimate figure beneath the crystal dome could be called to life by
following the directions in the volume in the casket. The trouble was
that he knew himself to be incompetent to carry out the necessary
operation. Obviously that was a task for a surgeon. He felt a deep
satisfaction in the thought that the surgeon he wanted was at his call
and was, moreover, a lifelong chum whose fidelity was beyond question.
This was, however, the least of his troubles. The real question
revolved round the point of what was to be done with the lady of his
dreams when she had been recalled to life. He could trust Dick Barry
absolutely with his secret, but it was another matter to have to
disclose it to some woman or other. He feared now, and not without
reason, that once the knowledge of the existence of his discovery
became public property constituted authority would step in and assume
control of the situation. That he might be deprived of any right to
control the contents of the galleries was of small moment compared
with the fear that he might be separated from the woman whom he looked
upon as his by divine right. He might, of course, get assistance from
Doris Bryce or Kitty Barry, but deeply as he admired those two
virtuous wives of his friends, he doubted their ability to control
events sufficiently to keep their counsel until he was ready to
proclaim his discovery to the world. Moreover, there came to add his
difficulties the fact that his bachelor establishment was an
impossible hiding-place for his secret. Every way he turned, the
position bristled with notes of interrogation without one single
feasible answer.

In the end he cut the knot of all his problems by deciding to lay the
case before Barry, and induce that aspiring physician to perform the
operation, and thereafter let events shape themselves. He had an idea
that the central figure in the question would probably take the final
decision out of his hands. "Anyhow," he said aloud to himself, as he
tapped the ashes from his pipe. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil
thereof. I guess I'll give Dick Barry something to think over before
the day is out."

It was characteristic of Dundas that, in spite of his absorbed
interest in his own affairs, he did not forget to pull up at the only
confectioner's shop in Glen Cairn. Then he handed over Billy to the
groom at the club, and made his way to the residence of his friend. A
brass plate of dazzling brilliance announced that Richard Barry,
B.Sc., M.D., might be consulted there between the hours of 10 and 11
a.m., and 8 and 9 p.m. As it was just after 11, Alan knew that he
would catch Barry before he left home on his rounds. The moment he
entered the gate a joyous infantile squeal announced his presence to
the mother on the verandah, who was unevenly dividing her time between
sewing and entertaining her exuberant offspring. Alan heaved Barry,
junior, to his shoulder, and joined Kitty, who had called out, on
seeing who her visitor was, that she was not at home to strangers.
Dundas deposited the wriggling infant at his mother's feet, and
protested that his call was purely in honour of her son, who did not
harbour horrid conventional criticism.

"Honest Injun, Madam Kitty, I've been working myself to death, and
instead of sympathy you give me nothing but abuse. Too bad! Other
pocket, you rascal; you'll only find gloves in that one." This to the
infant image of his hostess, who was foraging for the result of his
visit to the confectioner.

"Not only do you shamefully neglect us, Alan, but you add to your
misdeeds by spoiling my baby. Give them to mother, Dickie," said Kitty,
looking accusingly at Dundas, and then coaxingly at the infant, who was
cuddling a big bag of chocolates. "You stick to them, Coeur-de-Lion,"
advised Alan cheerfully. "Mummy will gobble up the lot if you don't."
Kitty glanced scornfully at her visitor, while she arranged a diplomatic
compromise with the babe, Alan looking on the while in amused silence.
When the child waddled off appeased, along the verandah, she turned to
Dundas seriously. "You know I sometimes think that Dick does not know as
much about babies as I do. He says to let the little demon (demon,
indeed! a nice sort of father!) eat anything he wants. What do you
think?"

Alan chuckled. "Can't say that I'm up in the subject myself. Anyhow
between the two of you the 'demon' looks in rattling condition, but
I'll say this, if ever I want medical advice I won't come to your man
for it."

"Alan!" in pained surprise from Kitty.

"You see, Madam Kitty," he went on unmoved by her protest. "Dick's
been itching to get to work on me for many a day. I've pulled his limb
so often in various ways that he says he is just waiting for a minor
operation on me without anaesthetics. The bloodthirsty villain is
looking forward to getting a bit of his own back that way."

Kitty smiled at the explanation. "I don't wonder at it, you scamp.
I'll ask him to give you an extra prod for me when he gets the chance.
What's this story about your working for an examination? Mr. Bryce
said that was the reason why you had not been in to the town for
nearly two months, and I might tell you that George MacArthur has
elaborated the statement by saying you are going in for holy orders."

Alan blessed Bryce inwardly, but regretted that he had not arranged
with his friend as to the exact course of study he was supposed to
pursue. "I should imagine that Mac had made that statement for the
edification of John Harvey Pook. Well, I'm not going to tilt the
reverend gentleman out of his pulpit just yet. It's only that I wanted
to finish some work that I had taken in hand that caused me to lie
low. I'm pretty nearly finished now. Where is Dick? I hope he isn't
out. I've come to consult him."

Kitty looked at him anxiously. "Oh, Alan, I hope--"

Dundas stopped her with a laugh. "Do I look like an invalid? No, it's
a professional matter, but it is not for myself."

A smart motor swung round the drive and came to a standstill before
the front door. "That looks as though he were ready to take wing. I
hope he will have time to see me."

Kitty reassured him on that point. "I know that at present Dick has
nothing pressing to attend to. He was saying only his morning that his
round would be a light one for a while. Here he is." As she spoke her
husband appeared. Barry's face lit up with pleasure at the sight of
Dundas. He was a big, wholesome man, red haired and blue eyed. He was
by no means handsome, but his face was one that won the way of the man
straight to the hearts of every one with whom he came into contact.
Women trusted him implicitly, and children and dogs took possession of
him on sight, while men voted the "Doc" a rattling good sort.
Therefore his paths were pleasant in the land.

"Dun, old man, I thought you had entered a monastery or something of
the sort. The committee of the club is going to inquire into your
conduct. What's the very latest?"

"The very latest is," put in Kitty, "that he has not been here ten
minutes, and he has tried to make your son sick with sweets, and
disobey his mother, and further he has been casting reflections on
your professional ability."

The two men laughed at the indictment. "It's a distorted version of my
proceedings, Dick, with a vapoury substratum of truth. I really came
to have a professional yabber with you, if you can give me the time;
but it will take an hour at least." Barry sent a swift glance over his
friend; then, turning quickly, he called to his man to take the car
back to the garage. "I've time and to spare, Dun. Come along to the
surgery." Alan looked at Kitty. "You'll excuse me, Madam Kitty."

"Of course, provided you'll stay to lunch."

"I rather surmise that Richard Barry, M.D., etc., will have other
views, so I can only give a provisional promise," was the answer, as
the two men turned into the house.

In the surgery Barry pulled up a chair for Alan, and seated himself at
his desk. "What's the trouble, Alan?" he asked seriously. "Not
yourself, I hope. Though you are looking a bit tucked up." Dundas
shook his head. "I'm as sound as a bell, Dicky, but--the fact of the
matter is I hardly know where to start." He rose and commenced to pace
the room slowly.

Barry, versed in human nature, forbore to question. "Take your time,
Dun."

Alan came to a standstill before the desk. "Look, Dick! If I hadn't
known you since we were shavers together, I wouldn't tell you what I'm
going to tell you now. It is not only a professional matter, but God
only knows what else depends on it. Under ordinary circumstances I
would not insult you by asking you to give your solemn promise that
under no circumstances shall you divulge what passes between us
without my express permission."

Barry looked at his friend closely. "Alan, my boy, if anyone else but
you asked me for such a promise, I'd feel it incumbent on me to boot
him off the premises. However, in your case, I'll say that I'll give
the promise, though it isn't altogether necessary."

"Don't get shirty, Dick; you'll understand presently. Now what I want
you to do is to come out to 'Cootamundra,' and perform a delicate
operation on a young woman..."

Barry rose slowly, and with his hands on the table leaned towards
Alan. There was a glint in his eyes as he spoke. "You ask me to
come out to 'Cootamundra' to perform a delicate operation on a young
woman. Well, Dundas, here's my answer. I'll see you damned first." He
spoke in a low, even tone, but he emphasised his answer by bringing
his clenched hand down on the table with a thump that made it rattle.

Alan looked at his friend open-mouthed at the outburst. Then sudden
comprehension came to him, and he rocked with derisive laughter at
Dick's grim set face. "Oh, Dicky! You evil-minded old bird. It's my
turn to get snake-headed now. So you thought that I--Richard, I blush
for you and your estimate of human nature."

"Human nature be hanged!" growled Barry, sinking back into his chair
mollified. "An intelligent fly on the wall of this room for a month
would learn more about it than you would in a lifetime. Crank up again."

"My fault for beginning at the wrong end," said Dundas, still smiling
reminiscently. Then he dropped into a chair, and leaning forward on
the table commenced his story. For a while Barry listened in silence,
but at last unable to control himself, broke in.

"Great Scott, Alan, is this another leg-pulling expedition, or have
the bats got into your belfry? Do you mean to tell me that when you
got to the bottom of the stairs of this place there were lights
burning?"

There was a choleric gleam in his blue eyes. Alan looked at him
thoughtfully for a while. He remembered that what had come to himself
gradually and in very fact, was coming to Barry all at once and
verbally, and he felt that allowances must be made. "Dick, old man, I
don't know how to put it to you," he said seriously, "but I want you
to believe that I was never more in earnest in my life than I am now.
I want you to listen and hear me out. Then I will answer every
question you like to put up to me. Only this, mad as it may seem,
every word I am speaking is true, and of that I will convince you
sooner or later--sooner if possible."

Dick settled himself back in his chair. "Sorry, old man. My
imagination isn't exactly cast iron, but then again it hasn't
altogether gaseous elasticity. I won't interrupt again."

Nevertheless, as Alan went on with his story, Barry's mind alternated
between fits of excitement and cautious estimates of Alan's mental
state, until in spite of himself his chum's sincerity and elaboration
of detail carried conviction. The relation of the discovery of the
Biological Gallery brought him to his feet. "Dun, if that's not
absolute fact, I'll murder you for opening out a fictitious vista of
paradise. Glory! What a place to get loose in!"

"Dicky, I'll promise you a free run of it, but I doubt if you'll ever
want to look at it at present when you hear the end," said Alan,
smiling at the fire he had kindled in his friend. Then he picked up
the thread of his story. There was no fear of disbelief now, a few of
the details he had given convinced Dick that no layman could have
concocted the story. From that out he followed the story with
breathless interest, until Alan, now warmed up, came to the story of
the opening of the temple and the figure on the couch. Then he could
contain himself no longer. "Good God! Alan," he whispered, with his
voice trembling, "is she--is she"--he could not frame the word.

"Dick, old man," said Dundas solemnly, "I know as certainly as we are
both living that she is living. It's no guess. All these ages, God
alone knows how long, she has been lying there waiting for the hand
that will call her back to life. Lying there in state, in all her
wonderful, glorious beauty. Dick, when you see her you will understand
my raving about her. Old fellow, if I could have done what is
necessary myself, I could find it in my heart never to allow another
man to set eyes upon her, But you will help, Dick. You must. I can
trust no one else."

Barry had risen to his feet, and started pacing the room with quick,
nervous steps. "Man! Are we both mad? It's incredible--monstrous.
Alan, I don't doubt the rest, but in this you must be mistaken. If she
be human there can be no life. She may be a masterpiece of consummate
art, but human, never!"

Dundas followed the restless movements of his friend with his eyes
without moving from his seat. "Dick," he said quietly, "if she be what
you think, then, I have lost my heart and soul to and effigy. No, old
man. Wonderful as they were, these old builders of wonders, they could
not have built such a wonder as she is. Think of the infinite craft
and skill with which she was guarded. The whole plan of the place was
arranged for her protection. Dick, will you do it?"

Barry came to a standstill in quivering excitement. "Will I do it?
Good heaven, man! I'd sell my immortal soul just to look on. Man, it
will be the biggest thing--it's gigantic. Think of a paper to the
'Lancet' or the 'B.M.J.' Think of reading it at the next medical
conference--"

"Think of the promise you made me," put in Alan coolly. "Dick, I don't
want to deprive you of the honour and glory, but you must wait my
time. For the present, Dicky, this is a strictly professional
engagement. We'll work it on your own terms, but you come out to
'Cootamundra' as my medical adviser until such time as I am ready to
disclose everything. After that you can write papers and read papers
till the cows come home."

The reminder brought Barry down from the clouds. "You are right, Alan.
I was so excited that I forget. You say I may name my own terms. All
right. My terms are the free run of the Biological Gallery. In return
I'll operate, and take charge of her professionally, so long as she
requires my help."

"Done, Dicky. When will you do it?" asked Alan excitedly.

Barry glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. "Twelve-fifteen. I can
finish my work, and be out at 'Cootamundra' by two-thirty. I'll give
Walton a ring, and ask him to look after anything urgent that may turn
up. That's the best of being on good terms with a hated rival. But, by
thunder, Dun, he'll shoot me on sight, and I'll deserve it, for not
calling him in as consultant. Rotten treatment for a brother brush,
but it can't be helped." He turned, and busied himself at an
instrument cabinet. "You won't want any tools, Dick," said Dundas,
looking over his shoulder. "I'll bet that there's a better collection
of hardware out there than you ever laid your eyes on."

"Oh, well," answered Barry, slipping a couple of cases into his bag,
"I'll take them on the off-chance. You'd better come with me in the
car."

"I think not," said Alan. "I'll get out ahead of you and get things
ready. Tell Madam Kitty I'll give you a feed out there. Goodness only
knows how long you'll be--Hold on, Dick, what about food for her?
She'll want something of the kind."

Barry knitted his brows thoughtfully, and then went to his desk. "The
deuce of it is there's no precedent for such a case. Got any milk out
there?" he said, taking up his pen.

"I can get some; I don't use it myself."

"Good! Get a quart or two, and take this down to the chemist," said
Dick, scrawling over a sheet of prescription paper. "It's a list of a
few things that may come in handy." He paused thoughtfully. "Do you
know, Dun, I shouldn't be surprised if they have made all arrangements
for the correct nourishment. Some of those locked cabinets you were
talking about."

Dundas took the list, and Barry caught up his bag. "While you are
waiting for me, time that hour-glass with your watch. It will be
better to know the time we will have to wait between the two
injections. Ready? Come on, then," said Dick over his shoulder.

Madam Kitty, used as a doctor's wife to the domestic disruptions of
her husband's profession, received the news of the immediate flight of
both guest and husband with resigned philosophy. Stipulating that Dick
would really have something to eat with Alan at 'Cootamundra,' she
waved the two on their various ways, wondering a little at Dick's
undoubted excitement, though he tried hard to suppress it, and at what
urgent call Alan could be mixed up with. For, dutifully, she never
even hinted at a question that impinged ever so slightly on her man's
work.




CHAPTER XVII


DUNDAS made his purchases from the chemist, and then, without further
delay, had Billy harnessed, and turned homeward, covering the twelve
miles in an hour. His first care was to prepare a meal for Barry, and
having accomplished this, he made his way to the shed. Since his first
discovery he had, for his own convenience, placed steps in the outer
shaft, so that his visits were carried out without the exertion of
scrambling in and out. Eagerly he descended the winding stairway to
the vestibule, and hurried to the sixth gallery. Everything was as he
had left it. Even now he could not cross the threshold of the "temple"
without a feeling of awe for what it contained.

In accordance with Barry's instructions, he proceeded to time the
hour-glass. After starting it, and carefully noting the time, he
turned to the crystal dome, and stood gazing enwrapped before the
figure beneath. The wonderful alluring beauty of the woman seemed to
appeal to all his senses with renewed force. There was something
pathetic in her very helplessness that drew from his manhood a feeling
of reverence. She could have not been very old, he thought, as he
stood watching; not more than twenty-four or five when the life had
been stilled. His mind almost reeled when he tried to realise how long
she had lain there awaiting his coming.

The world had been born again, and the history of humanity had been
rewritten since those white lids had closed upon her eyes. Through all
our known time she had waited there in the silence and solitude. No
detail of the picture escaped his searching eyes. He found himself
wondering whether the radiant masses of her hair had increased while
she was lying there. He wondered, too, whether there was a reason that
one white delicate hand lay open, palm down, beside her, while the
other was closed. Whose hand was it that had drawn that shimmering
sapphire covering over her, and composed her limbs for the long sleep?

Then an unconquerable restlessness seized him, and an anxiety he could
not repress took possession of him. With nervous steps he paced the
chamber from end to end, pausing now to glance at the receding sand in
the glass, and again to rest his eyes on the still figure. At last it
was finished, and when Alan snapped the case of his watch he knew that
the interval between the two injections would be one hour and fifteen
minutes.

By now Barry would be due, so Dundas made his way to the homestead, in
order that he would be there in time to receive his friend. However,
there was no sign of the doctor's car on the distant road, and, with
growing impatience, he roamed in and out of the house. Then a thought
flashed across his mind. He went into his bedroom, and looked himself
over critically in the glass on his dressing table. Beyond the care of
the average neatly-dressed man, as a rule he took little heed of his
personal appearance. Now, however, his scrutiny of his reflection
seemed to give him little cause for satisfaction. He frowned
discontently at the blue serge clad figure, and then looked about the
room for inspiration. Presently his face lit up. He remembered that he
had a brand new suit of tennis flannels, and, hastily discarding the
despised serge, he proceeded to array himself in white. He was deeply
immersed in the problem of whether a dark blue or dark red tie would
look the better, when the toot of a motor-horn outside announced the
arrival of Barry. Hastily deciding for blue, he called out to Dick to
make himself at home, and finished his toilet. He appeared before his
guest looking not a little self-conscious for his change of raiment, a
fact that was by no means lost on that graceless friend of his youth,
who proceeded to roast him without mercy, and, for a wonder, Dundas
was dumb before the attack. At last he blurted out: "Oh, stop rotting
me, Dick! I'm all nerves and jumps. I'll own up that I got into these
togs with the hope of improving my appearance. I don't want her to
think that all the men in the world are like you. Don't you ever
realise that our modern, every-day clothing is the most damnably ugly
and inartistic that mankind ever wore." Barry went off into shouts of
laughter. "When did you find that out, Dun? I've heard you say that
blue dungaree was good enough for anyone."

Shameless now in his fall, Alan faced him without flinching. "I found
it out about half an hour ago. Tell you what, Dick. If I had an
eighteenth century rig-out of blue satin and gold lace, I'd wear it
now. Hanged if I wouldn't. Now you had better have something to eat,
for Providence only knows when we will be finished."

In spite of Barry's remonstrance, Alan declined to join him,
protesting that he could not swallow a mouthful if he tried. When the
doctor had satisfied his hunger the two set out for the shed, carrying
with them bottles of milk and other concentrated and nourishing
preparations that Barry had suggested, and also the bag containing the
instruments.

Both men were now in a state of suppressed excitement. Alan because he
stood on the verge of realising his wildest hopes, and Dick at the
thought of penetrating to the mysterious discovery so vividly
described by his friend. When they entered the shed Alan carefully
locked the door, and lit an acetylene lamp. Then he handed the basket
to Barry, and the two descended into the shaft. As they entered the
doorway to the landing, Dundas cautioned his companion to follow him
carefully, and led the way downward. For a while they descended
without speaking, the only sound being caused by the tread of Barry's
boots, multiplied weirdly by the echoes of the shaft, until at last
the impression of the ghostly crowd of followers became too strong for
his nerves, and he paused irresolutely.

"Dash it all, Alan," he said, speaking almost in a whisper, "is there
much more of this? It's enough to give anyone the jumps."

Dundas looked up at him. "We're not half-way down yet, Dickie. If it's
any satisfaction to you, it gave me the jumps to some tune the first
time I came down. I'll tell you about it later. You might notice I'm
wearing tennis shoes." His voice reverberated in uncanny echoes. Then
Barry broke in. "Great Scott, man! Don't let us stand here talking,
the place seems full of beastly spooks. I wonder you didn't funk it."

"I did," replied Alan shortly, "but I went through worse, and so will
you, my boy." He turned, and they resumed their noisy progress. At
last they came to the lower landing, and, in spite of the warning Alan
gave, Barry almost dropped the basket he was carrying when his eyes
fell on the shadow on the opposite wall. Alan paused and gave Dick a
brief but lurid account of his flight for the upper air at his first
encounter, and, in spite of the shock he had just undergone, his
friend could not forbear to laugh, though he admitted he would have
done the same thing.

As the two came to a halt at the head of the stairway to the
vestibule; Dundas turned to his chum. "Now, listen, Dick," he said
seriously, "before we go any further, you have to understand that when
we get to the end of the next steps there are more kinds of sudden
death about than you have the faintest idea of. There is only one
thing for you to do, and that is to follow my footsteps exactly. If
you try to find a track for yourself you will in all probability die
very suddenly and very unpleasantly."

"Cheerful sort of place you seem to have strayed into, Dun. Anyhow,
you don't need a promise from me to stick to you like a leech. I hope
you know your landmarks!'

"Pretty well by now, but there may be a few surprises left that I
haven't come on, so keep close behind me, and let nothing tempt you to
break away. I'll bring the lamp with me; we may want it later. Come on
now, but remember."

With Barry at his heels, Dundas descended the last stairway to the
vestibule, pausing on the way to show his friend the place where the
blade had blocked his path, and how he had overcome it.

From there onward their progress was punctuated by wrangles. Barry,
awe-stricken and enthralled by his surroundings, desired only to
linger and satisfy his curiosity, while Alan, impatient at every
moment's delay, attempted to hurry him forward. Familiarity with its
wonders had to some extent blunted Alan's interest in the Art Gallery,
and it had been completely overshadowed by his latest discovery in the
"temple," so that it was with a feeling approaching irritation that he
urged Barry forward. In spite of bullying and badgering, the journey
through the first gallery occupied a quarter of an hour, and finally
Dundas swore by all the gods that if Dick would not consent to go
direct to the sixth gallery he would call off the agreement and engage
Walton for the work. The threat had its intended effect, though as
they passed the door of the Biological Gallery, Alan had to move
behind him, and was only able to get him past the zone of attraction
by resorting to violence.

At length they arrived at the entrance to the antechamber. In his
narrative Alan had made no illusion to this feature of the journey.
Pausing at the doorway, while Barry stood lost in amazement at its
magnificence, Alan briefly outlined the peculiarities of its
construction, so as to prepare his chum for the shock. In spite of
this, however, and even with the assistance of the friendly rays of
the acetylene lamp, it was a white and sober man who stood beside
Dundas when he had reached the last gallery. Even in his excitement
Alan could not hide his amusement at his friend's discomfiture.
"Dicky, old man, if you ever say another word to me about my attempts
at sartorial improvement today, I'll write an article describing how
you shied when the howling started."

Barry wiped his damp forehead, and heaved a mighty breath. "By
thunder! Dun, if I had known what kind of a place you were bringing me
to, I think I would have let you get other medical advice." He had
been so much upset for one moment that he had taken no notice of his
new surroundings. Then his eyes, following those of Dundas, fell upon
the "temple," and on the realistic group of figures under the portico.
From where they were standing it was almost impossible to decide
whether Art or Nature was responsible for that unconventional trio.
Obeying all his instincts, Barry turned swiftly away, and drew Alan
with him. "Good heavens, man!" he gasped. "I thought you said there
was only one."

Alan chuckled at his friend's blushing countenance. "Sorry if your
modesty is damaged, Dicky, but your patient is inside. The girls on
the portico are merely her guardian angels. I'll admit they are not
the stereotyped kind." Turning with his hand on Barry's shoulder, the
two walked towards the steps. "Those three hussies are a sample of the
art of another period of the world's existence, and if they are true
to nature, it merely goes to show that Nature has never been able to
improve on the female of the species."

"Upon my word, Dun," said Barry, eyeing the figures askance. "I don't
mind a fair thing, but these are rather overproof. I'm sure Kitty
would hardly approve of my making their acquaintance. They are too
blushfully realistic even as ornaments."

"They are something more than ornaments, Dick. Like everything else
about the place, they were put there for a purpose. I'll show you why
later. Don't let us waste any more time now. Come on." He stepped to
the curtain and drew it aside, at the same time motioning Barry to
enter. As the curtain fell behind them the atmosphere of mystery that
prevailed in the "temple" gripped them both in its thrall. They bared
their heads mechanically and as Dundas led the way to the crystal dome
their voices fell to a whisper. Standing beside the glittering canopy,
Alan looked from the face of the glorious figure beneath to that of
his friend. He knew that Barry's calmer and trained judgment would
prove or dispel his hopes at the first glance. It was with a wild
thrill of happiness, then, that he saw the blank look on Dick's face
give way to amazement. Like a man in a dream, he sank to his knees,
pressing his face closer to the transparent cover in an attempt to
peer more closely at the still form on the couch. For a few minutes he
remained motionless. Then, without turning his head, he spoke in an
awed whisper. "It's true. My God! It's true." A moment later he rose
suddenly and caught Alan's arm. "Dun, you were right." His voice
trembled with excitement. "Even to the last I thought you were
bringing me to a tomb. Dun, do you understand what it means? She's
alive. She's alive!"

"I was sure of it, Dick," said Dundas quietly, looking from his
friend's face back to the couch. "I don't understand anything except
that. Dick, do you think that we can..." His voice failed from
anxiety, but the mute question in his eyes said more than words.

"God only knows what's behind it all, Alan," answered Barry soberly.
"If the life has been kept in the body so long by some wonderful
means, then perhaps by means as wonderful it may be renewed." He broke
off and turned again to the canopy, and studied the figure there with
searching eyes. Then he looked up again. "Old man, I can well
understand why you are so anxious, but, for God's sake, don't hope for
too much. Alan, there are so many things that may have gone wrong
since she was laid there. The drugs may have deteriorated. They may
have been a time limit. We are working absolutely in the dark."

Dundas shook his head. "Somehow, Dick, I think they have left no
chance for an error. The whole thing rests with us, or rather with
you."

Barry stood for a while without speaking, then he braced himself
together. "Show me that book, Dun. After all it all rests on that."
Without a word, Alan led the way to the casket, and, drawing the book
from its case, he placed it on the table before Barry. Then he drew up
two seats. For half an hour they sat in absorbed silence, Barry intent
on the pages before him, and Alan watching without comment as the
other turned from the book to the casket. He compared each article in
turn with the diagrams, and handled them deftly and precisely. Dick
was first to break the silence. "Did you time that glass?" He jerked
out the words without looking up.

"Yes. One hour and fifteen minutes exactly." Barry nodded and picked
up a syringe that lay on the table before him, and examined it
intently. Presently he put it down, and looked up suddenly. "Anything
wrong?" asked Alan anxiously.

"No, nothing wrong, but that syringe is something new of its kind. I
couldn't get the hang of it at first. It looks simple enough, but did
you notice those valves?"

"I can't say that I did particularly," answered Dundas, glancing at
the instrument.

"Well," went on Barry, "the trouble in an injection of this kind is
the risk of injecting air as well as fluid, and it plays the very
devil if it does happen. Now, that syringe is so made that the fluid
can pass and the air cannot. It simplifies matters for me. No, Dun,
old man They were not taking any risks. Now look what do you make of
that?" He turned to a page in the book and passed it across to Alan,
who shook his head when he saw it.

"I couldn't make head or tail of it when I saw it before. It's heathen
to me."

Barry took a flask of colourless fluid from the casket, and compared
it with the diagram on the page. "Notice how they have made the flasks
all different shapes, so that there can be no mistakes apart from the
colour. Follow carefully. See, both the spot where the incision is to
be made and the knife itself are to be rubbed with this fluid. It's an
antiseptic solution, I imagine. You see, too, that the bandages
themselves are hermetically sealed. I've got the hang of everything
now. Everything is perfectly simple and straight sailing, though I
wonder why the injection is to be made in the artery and not the vein.
Still, it's a case of obey orders if you break owners. I think we had
better start at once. The only thing is, how are we to open these
flasks?" He took up one containing the green liquid. It was not closed
by a stopper of any kind. The wide neck had been drawn out to a point,
and fused, so that evaporation was impossible, and the only method of
gaining access to its contents would be by breaking the neck. Dick
rose and went to his bag and returned with a pair of pliers. Holding
the flask firmly in his hand, he tapped lightly on the neck with the
pliers. At the third stroke the glass snapped in a clean-cut line,
about half an inch from the body of the flask, evidently as it had
been intended to. Alan watched the proceedings with anxious eyes. An
accident to the precious vessels meant irreparable disaster. When he
saw the success of the experiment, he heaved a sigh of relief. "Risky
business, Dick," he said. "You had me on pins and needles then." Barry
was too absorbed in sniffing at the contents of the flask to notice
the comment. "What's it smell like?" Dundas queried, watching Barry's
face as he alternately inhaled with closed eyes, and then stared
fixedly at the ceiling, groping for mental inspiration.

"Hanged if I know;" was the brief reply. Then, after a moment:
"Doesn't smell like any smell I've ever smelt before. I think that I
had better put a stopper in until we are ready to use it. I should say
it's pretty volatile." He plugged the mouth of the flask with a
tightly-rolled wad of cotton-wool, and returned it to the casket.
"Now, Dun, we'll get that glass-case thing away. I suppose that lever
merely locks it on."

The two advanced to the crystal dome. "There would be no sense in
locking it, Dick, if they left the key in the lock. I think the lever
has some other purpose. Anyhow, here goes." He knelt down, and taking
a firm hold of the handle, drew it towards him. The action was
followed instantly by a loud hissing, like the escape of steam, that
died down in a few seconds. The two men looked at one another in
silence a moment. "What was that, Dun?" asked Barry perplexed. Alan
stood up and looked into the dome.

"Only could be one thing, Dick. There was a vacuum under the cover,
and the lever let in the air."

"Vacuum be hanged," said Barry scornfully. "Why, man, the outside
pressure would have shattered that glass to dust, it's as thin as
paper."

Dundas shook his head. "You are wrong, Dick. It's not glass--at least
of the kind we know anything about. I've tested some of it before, and
it's tougher than steel. The pressure must have been tremendous, but
it helped to keep the cover fixed on the rim. I expect we will be able
to move it now easily. Go to the other two handles." Barry obeyed, and
at a word from Alan they lifted together. The great dome came away
with an ease that surprised them. Had it been really made of paper it
could not have been lighter. Where they had expected to find only the
glass dome removable, and that the foot-deep metal ring would be set
in the pavement, it came as an extra surprise that the cover was all
in one piece, and was merely let into a circular groove surrounding
the couch. They lifted it with infinite care in order not to injure
the still figure beneath it, and carried it well out of the way and
placed it on the floor. Then, moved by one impulse, they hurried back
to the couch. Standing on either side the two bent over. Guided by
professional instinct, Barry's hand sought the wrist that lay beside
her. For a little while he held it, then broke the strained silence.
"Not a trace of pulse, Alan. Not that I expected it." He said in a low
voice: "Look." He lifted the open hand slightly. "The joints are as
flexible as if she were sleeping. Give me my bag, will you, old man?"
When Dundas turned to the couch again Barry had just re-closed an
eyelid which he had raised. "Dick, you won't do anything outside the
fixed routine, will you?" said Alan seriously, as he passed over the
bag.

"Honour bright, Dun, I wouldn't take a shadow of risk. I only wanted
this." He snapped open the bag as he spoke, and drew out a
stethoscope, and fixed the tubes to his ears. Kneeling down, he
adjusted the instrument over the heart, and remained motionless. He
stood up at length and shook his head thoughtfully. "It's no use
professing to account for anything in her condition, for I'm
absolutely at sea. The only thing to do is to go on as directed."

Dundas, who was standing by, a prey to acute anxiety, nodded his head
without speaking. He obeyed Barry's directions mechanically, and
assisted in moving a table close to the couch. Then he arranged the
contents of the casket on it in the order in which they would be
required. Dick looked at Alan's shaking hand grimly, as he proceeded
to open the flask containing the antiseptic. "Better let me do that,
Dun, if you can't pull yourself together. Great Scott, man! I must
have help. Are you going to fail me?" was a carefully regulated ring
in his voice that stung Alan into steadiness.

"Dick, I'll do what I can, but I'm not built of steel. Must I stand
by? It seems sacrilege to me."

The professional interest in Barry had overridden all other sentiment
now the moment of action had arrived. The grand training of his order
asserted itself. Brain and nerve had brought hand and eye to
disciplined subjection, He proceeded with the work of sterilising both
instruments, and the spot on the arm where he would have to operate,
with perfect coolness. There was nothing in his demeanour as he
answered to show the intense excitement he felt. "Listen, Alan. I can
do without your help, but it would be taking unnecessary risks. You
needn't look unless you like, but you must be here in case I want
anything." As he spoke he filled the syringe with the emerald-coloured
fluid, and handed it to Dundas. "Now, hold that, and the moment I ask
for it, put into my hand." Then he turned and knelt beside the couch,
taking the glittering lancet from the table as he did so.

Alan turned his eyes away, staring fixedly at the curtained entrance,
and tried to engage his thoughts by tracing the intricacies of its
pattern. So tense was the silence that he could plainly hear his own
heart beat. "Now, Dun! The syringe!" came Barry's sharp voice, and
Alan placed it in the outstretched hand. There was another space of
silence, and then Dick rose to his feet. "Exact time, Alan?" he asked.
"Four-ten," answered Dundas, placing his watch on the table.

"Well, so far so good. Now we will have to wait until five twenty-five
before the next. Old man, it's going to be a mighty long hour and a
quarter." Alan moved restlessly. "There's no reason why you shouldn't
look if you wish, old chap; I've covered the mark with a piece of
dressing."

Dundas stood beside the couch, his soul in his eyes as he looked
down.. There was a dull feeling of surprise that as yet no change
showed on the calm face on the cushions. Barry read the meaning of his
look. "Don't he disappointed; I don't expect any alteration until
after the next injection," he said reassuringly. "I think we might
reconcile ourselves to that!" Then after a tentative test with the
stethoscope, he went on: "Do you know, Alan, there was not the
slightest trace of haemorrhage? It's a fact that may not appeal to you
as a layman, but it fairly ties my existing ideas in a knot."

"The details don't worry me much, Dick," answered Dundas. "The key to
everything lies in the result of your work. I wish to God we knew for
certain how it will turn out. The strain hurts." He sank into a seat
near by, and drummed nervously with his fingers. Barry, to distract
his thoughts, began questioning him about his adventures from the
beginning. He had time now to note the exquisite beauty of the
interior decoration, and succeeded in drawing Alan into a closer
examination of their surroundings. When they came on the strange
keyboard near the entrance, Dick's hand went impulsively towards it,
to be hurriedly checked by Dundas. "Dick, for Heaven's sake, don't
touch anything like that you may come across. You don't know what kind
of hell you may start off. The whole place is a mass of damnable
machinery," and in a few sentences he told the result of his meddling
in the machinery gallery. Barry, properly impressed, sheered away from
the too attractive keys and when he had finished a brief examination
listened with breathless interest to the story of the opening of the
"temple."

Then the two discussed in whispers the course to be adopted in the
event of success. Finally Barry agreed, if somewhat doubtfully, that
Alan's idea of allowing events to shape themselves was the best policy
to pursue. For the last quarter of an hour scarcely a word passed
between them. Barry busied himself with his preparations for the final
injection, while Alan, to occupy his time, made ready the milk and the
other nourishment under his friend's directions.

At last the slow-moving hands of the watch indicated the appointed
time. Without hesitation, Dick turned to the work in hand. In spite of
his repugnance, Dundas watched the completion of the operation with
fascinated eyes. It was over in a few minutes, and with deft and
steady fingers the bandage was adjusted, and fastened into its place.
"Now," said Barry, "if there be any foundation for our belief, I think
we will know it very shortly." Standing on either side of the couch
the two watched with fast-beating hearts. Minute after minute went by.
Once Alan looked up at Barry, and saw that his gaze was fixed intently
on the face of the woman. His lips were set in a straight line, and
there was a look of intense concentration in his eyes. Again the long,
strained silence. Then suddenly a low exclamation broke from the
doctor's lips. In a moment he was bending over with the stethoscope in
his hand. Then he straightened up. "By God, Dun!" he stammered out.
"No doubt now--distinct pulsations. Watch!" Trembling with excitement
the two bent closer. As they did so the pale lips parted slightly,
showing a gleam of milky white teeth, and there was the scarce-audible
sound of a drawn breath in the silence, and a distinct, though slight
movement of the fabric above the breast. Both men stood rigid, as if
suddenly petrified. Beneath their awed eyes a miracle was being done.
Slowly as the dawn a faint flush of colour spread over the pale
cheeks, and a deeper hue to the perfectly curved lips. But with the
flush of pink came something more, that seemed as if a veil that had
rested on the pale features had been drawn aside. It appeared as if a
soul had entered, and found a resting place. After the first sigh
followed slow, regular respiration, and the swelling bosom beneath the
clinging robe heaved gently in unison. Beautiful as she had looked
before, they realised now, with the flush of life throbbing through
her veins, that the woman they had first looked on was but a shadow of
the one that was blossoming, like a flower, into glorious life.

Suddenly Dundas touched Barry lightly, and whispered: "Dick--we ought
not to be so close. We may frighten her if she opens her eyes
suddenly." With a nod, Barry acquiesced, and the two moved silently
away, and stood together at a little distance. "I think it will only
be a question of minutes now, Alan, from the rate those drugs are
working at. Good God! What a wonder!" This from Barry, in a tense
whisper. He did not know then, so fascinated was he by the spectacle,
that Dundas held his arm as if clutched in a vice, and left an imprint
of his straining fingers that lasted for many a day. "Look, Dick!
Look! The hand!" he muttered, and as he spoke the white hand stirred
restlessly, and fell across the golden cascade of her hair. A moment
later came a deeper sigh than before, and the head turned slightly on
the cushion. Another sigh like the first waking breath of a child, and
the long lashes trembled on her cheeks, and the white lids fluttered
ever so slightly, and then--The gasp of rapture that rose to Alan's
lips was checked swiftly by Barry's hand. Slowly the eyes opened,
glorious deep, grey orbs--then closed, and were again unveiled. It
seemed to both the watchers that the moment she lay, while dawning
consciousness entered her eyes, would never end. Then it seemed as if
the realisation of external things came to her like a flash. The white
hand was flung upward to her forehead, then she raised her head, and
looked around, and in doing so her eyes fell on the two silent
watchers. A little cry broke from her lips, and she half raised
herself on her elbow, looking them over with frank amazement, but
utterly without fear. For a little space they remained so. Neither man
could find a word to say, nor make the slightest movement, while the
woman seemed unable for the moment to realise the import of their
presence. Then sudden comprehension dawned in those soft, shining
eyes. With a quick, graceful movement, she flung the cover from her,
and sat up on the edge of the couch, but never for a moment did her
gaze leave them. For a while she sat thus, then, as if in recollection
flashed into her mind, she opened her closed hand, and looked long and
earnestly at a brown stain on the pink palm.

Relieved for the moment of the intensity of her gaze, Barry whispered
wildly: "For God's sake, Dun, speak to her; say something, do
something." Alan pulled himself together with an effort, and stepped
forward a little with outstretched hands. How he got the strength to
control his voice he never knew, but control it he did, and said
quietly and evenly, "Do not fear us, please; we are friends, and would
like to help you." At the sound of his voice she looked at his
outstretched hands, and then into his eyes, and again her gaze fell to
the dark stain on her palm. Very slowly she rose, and looked about
her. Her glance swept the room from end to end until it rested on the
table beside the couch, with its array of flasks and instruments. As
if divining their purpose, she looked at the bandaged arm, until now
unnoticed, and touched its wrappings with anxious fingers. Without
taking the proffered hands, she passed Dundas slowly, and moved down
the room to where the keyboard was fixed. Both men stood back as she
passed, and watched her movements anxiously. Even in their perplexity
they could not fail to note the graceful regal bearing of her figure
as she moved. With definite purpose she touched key after key. Once an
answer came in the deep musical note of a bell.

Whatever her reason was for this procedure, her perfect self-possession
gave no signs as to whether the result was expected or unexpected.
Without further hesitation she turned away, and, crossing the chamber,
she stopped before one of the cabinets that had defied all Alan's
efforts to open it. In an instant, at a touch from her fingers, the
carved front slid down and outward, exposing a case in which were set a
number of dials, each bearing a pointer, and ringed with hieroglyphics.
For a few moments she studied these intently, and then for the first
time she showed evidence of deep feeling. Whatever she had learned from
the contents of the cabinet seemed to move her greatly. When she turned
towards the two men, who stood silently watching her, her face bore an
expression of incredulous amazement. Again and again, as if to convince
herself against her own judgment, she turned her eyes, first to the
group of dials in the cabinet, and back to the faces of the men. "What
do you make of it, Dun?" whispered Barry eagerly.

"Appears to me as if those clock arrangements had told her the length
of time she had been asleep," answered Alan without turning his head.
"If so, it's no wonder she's astonished. Dick, I'm going to try and
speak to her again." As if she understood what had passed between
them, she left the cabinet and moved slowly towards the two. As she
approached she completely regained control of her feelings. There was
not the slightest look of apprehension in her face. Her grave grey
eyes that turned from one to the other were full of curious interest.
Alan advanced slightly to meet her, and Barry could not help noticing
how well he looked with his square shoulders and fine athletic frame.
"Jove!" he thought, "Dun is looking his best. I don't know what kind
of men she's been used to, but she's meeting one of the best specimens
of ours now." Within a pace of one another the two paused, and Barry
watched the meeting with keen relish. For a moment they regarded one
another seriously, and then a slow, sweet smile came to the lips of
the woman, which instantly drew a responding smile from Alan, and his
hand went out impulsively. This time there was no hesitation, for her
hand immediately met his frankly, and so they stood for a few seconds,
looking into each other's eyes, but no word passed between them. Then,
as if reluctantly, their hands fell apart, and she looked past him to
where Barry stood with a smile of amused interest on his face.

There was a moment's pause; then Dundas took the situation in hand.
Turning towards Dick, and indicating him with a wave of his hand, he
said slowly and distinctly, "Richard Barry."

Without the slightest hesitation she repeated the name softly, and
walking forward she held out a hand to Dick, which was immediately
taken. Then she turned and looked inquiringly at Alan, who stepped to
her side, and touching himself, spoke his own name. This, too, was
repeated, not once, but several times, and to Alan's enchanted ears
never was human voice more perfect. "Dun," said Dick, with a short
laugh, "you're a winner--I'm a rank outsider. Congratulations." Alan's
face flushed crimson. "Shut up, you blithering ass," came the answer
savagely. But Dick, hedged by the presence of the woman between them,
went on: "No need for the blue silk and gold lace, old man. However,
don't you think it would be polite to offer the lady some
refreshments." Murmuring threats of vengeance, Alan went to the table
and poured out a glass of milk. While he was doing this the woman
watched every movement intently, and immediately saw his intention. As
he held up the glass she approached without the slightest hesitation,
and took it from his hand. Then she raised the glass to her lips, and
drank the greater part of its contents before setting it down, shaking
her head in the negative when he offered to refill it. The two men
watched for her next movement with the greatest interest. For a while
she stood by the table in deep thought. Then she looked from one to
the other as though she had come to a resolution. Taking her stand
beside one of the seats, she looked at Dick, and then, calling his
name, she motioned him towards it. Obediently Dick answered the call,
and her evident wish for him to be seated. Then she pushed another
seat close in front of him, ignoring Alan's polite attempts to assist.
When she had placed it to her satisfaction, she laid her hand gently
on Alan's arm, and drew him towards the seat, placing him face to face
with Dick, and so close that their knees touched. The two men looked
blankly at her, and then at one another. "What on earth's the game?"
asked Dick, somewhat anxiously. "I haven't the faintest idea," replied
his chum. "Only I'm perfectly certain that she knows what she is
about. I'm going to follow her lead blindly."

"Oh, well, if you're satisfied, I suppose I'll have to be," said
Barry, resignedly.

While they were talking the woman listened, and, as if comprehending
their perplexity, she smiled reassuringly. Then she bent forward, and,
taking Dick's right hand, she placed it in Alan's left; then she
joined the other two hands in the same manner. The pressure of her
soft fingers made Dundas quiver, as if he had touched a live wire.
"Seems like a new parlour game, Dun," said Dick, grinning into his
friend's puzzled face. "Sit tight, Dick, and hang on to my hands.
There's more in this than meets the eye. Now, what?" As he was
speaking she placed herself behind Barry's seat, and drew him gently
back until his head rested on the back of the seat. Then she spoke a
few soft words, and placed her clasped hands across Dick's forehead,
looking down at Alan as she did so. "Keep quite quiet, Dick," said
Alan, in a whisper. "Let her do as she wishes."

A few moments later Alan saw a strange look come into Barry's eyes.
"What's the matter, Dick?" he asked, hastily. It appeared as if the
other tried to answer, but before he could frame the words his eyes
closed, and his whole frame relaxed. For a moment Alan made as if to
rise, but a quick, warning glance from the grey eyes held him steady.
Then the woman began to speak, looking all the time straight into
Alan's face. Alan listened fascinated. She spoke slowly, uttering the
strange words in a soft, liquid voice. After a moment she paused, and
the instant she did so Barry stirred restlessly under her hands, and
commenced to speak. His voice came in a low, monotonous monotone, but
very distinctly. "Alan Dundas, I speak to you through your friend,
Richard Barry, and through him your thoughts may be made known to me.
Will you answer the questions I ask?"

"I will gladly answer," said Alan, instantly. Then, to his amazement,
the unconscious Barry spoke a few words in the same strange tongue
that he had heard the woman use. She smiled at him gently over Dick's
head, and then spoke again, and so the dialogue went on through the
unconscious interpreter.

"Who gained entrance to the great sphere?"

"I did, but I did not know that it was a sphere." There was a puzzled
look on her face as she put the next question.

"Why did you not know? Could you not see?"

"No, the place we are in is buried beneath the ground. I was digging,
and discovered it."

She paused reflectively, and went on. "Did you alone find your way to
my resting-place, or did others help you?"

"I alone. I live at a distance from any others, and kept the secret to
myself."

"Then who besides yourself knows of my existence?"

"Only one other--Richard Barry, my friend. When I gained entrance to
this place I knew I had not the skill to call you back to life, and so
I called on him for help; but first I made him vow to be silent, until
it was my wish that he should tell of the discovery. In this matter we
will obey your will." Alan watched the glorious face before him keenly
while the unconscious Barry translated his words, and it gave him a
deep thrill of joy to see that his answer had given her unmistakable
pleasure. The dazzling smile he received was more than payment for all
the weary work and risk.

"For that I thank you, Alan Dundas. Now tell me are there many people
in the world?"

"Very many millions. How many I do not know, but the world is very
thickly populated."

"Can you tell me how far back the history of the human race is traced
by your people?"

"Roughly, we have a clear record for two thousand five hundred years.
Beyond that we can trace it for three or four thousand years, but not
clearly."

His answer seemed to interest her deeply, for it was some little time
before she spoke again. "What you tell me causes me great grief, for
you tell me of a great calamity of long ago. Of that you shall hear
later. You wish to be my friend?"

"Indeed, I do," and there was no doubting the sincerity of his answer.

"Then tell me if you can keep my existence a secret until I wish it to
be known?"

"That, indeed, I can and will do. I can answer for Richard Barry, as I
can for myself."

"Then, Alan Dundas, that is my wish. Further, I desire to remain
unknown until I am able to speak your own tongue. Is there more than
one language spoken in the world?"

"There are very many languages, but the one I am speaking is the most
widely known. That I will teach you gladly."

"Then I will trust you, for I know well that I may. Until you have
taught me to speak your language I will remain here. The reason I will
tell you hereafter. There are many things I must learn, too, before I
can go amongst the people of the world. These things you must teach
me."

"Everything in which I can help you I will gladly do." Alan spoke from
his heart, and another smile was his reward.

"Now I must bring your friend to himself again; it is not good to hold
him so."

"Wait," said Dundas eagerly. "You have not told me by what name we may
call you?"

"I am called 'Earani.' The name means 'The Flower of Life.'"

Alan repeated the name softly, and she nodded at each repetition with
a faint smile of amusement.

"Truly, you are well named as a flower," he ventured.

Her eyes challenged his over Barry's head. "But there are many kinds
of flowers."

"But none more beautiful than the flower of life." He risked it with a
beating heart.

A slow flush came to her cheeks, and Barry stirred restlessly under
her hands. For the first time her eyes fell slightly. "See, we put too
great a strain on your friend." She moved her hands a little.

"One moment more. You have not told me about food for you. I must
arrange for that."

"There is no need for you to trouble. There is food and all else I
require for many years within reach."

"May Richard Barry come and see you and help in the teaching?"

She divined his thoughts. "Yes, he may come, but I will not speak to
you again until you have taught me how. Now we must stop. First,
though, tell me is it night or day?"

"The day is just closing."

"Then you will tell all that has passed between us to Richard Barry?
Afterwards you will leave me here and return while the morning is yet
young?"

"I will do your wish, but I do not think I will tell Richard Barry
everything. I will omit a little part of it." There was a look in his
eyes she could not fail to interpret.

"If you have spoken nonsense I do not think your friend would care to
hear it." Then, without giving him time to answer, she removed her
hands from Dick's forehead, and, coming quickly round, she separated
their clasped hands.

Almost immediately Dick, who had been lying limply in his seat, opened
his eyes in a dazed and sleepy fashion, and looked inquiringly at
Alan, who sat smiling before him. "What happened, Dun? I feel as if I
had been drugged." He pressed both hands to his eyes. Earani, who had
been standing beside him, passed her fingers lightly over his
forehead, and in a moment, he sat up, looking from one to the other
for a solution of his perplexity.

"I never saw it done before, Dick, but you've been mesmerised, and
through you I have been told the wishes of Earani."

"Mesmerised! Well, I'm blessed." He stood up. "And if the conversation
was not absolutely confidential, I'd like to know what I've been
saying."

"No use getting shirty, Dick," answered his unabashed friend. "I
didn't know what was going to happen, but if I had known I wouldn't
have warned you. It was most interesting." And he proceeded to give
the mollified Dick an account of his involuntary interpreting. While
they were talking Earani had returned to her couch, and, seated at the
foot of it, she watched the two with grave interest. With movements
that showed an utter lack of self-consciousness she drew the
shimmering cascade of her hair on either shoulder as she sat, and with
deft fingers twined it into two arm-thick braids that fell below her
waist. To Alan, who could not keep his eyes from such a fascinating
picture, it seemed as if she were twining some part of himself in to
the golden mesh, and, to Barry's huge disgust, the narrative became
almost incoherent. "It seems to me, Alan, my boy, that I'm not the
only one that's been mesmerised," he said testily. "Go on, man; what
next, after she said her name was Earani?"

"Oh, nothing much, except that she wants us to clear out of here, and
leave her until to-morrow. Dick, isn't she wonderful?"

"Not as wonderful as your behaviour; you're positively gaping. Didn't
you ask her how they worked the suspended-animation business, or what
those drugs were?"

"Oh, we'll get that in time, you one-eyed drivelling old body-snatcher.
Dick, I'm going to teach her English. Think of that."

"My sacred aunt! Then, if that's a specimen, she'll have a dazzling
vocabulary. Didn't you even ask her about food?"

"Of course, I did. She says she has enough to last her for years."

"I'd like to see it," said Barry, whose professional curiosity had
outweighed all other interests.

The two approached the table, and proceeded to put it in order, and
Barry, who was determined to gain one point at least, opened a small
jar of concentrated meat and showed it to Earani, who was watching
their movements curiously. She took it from him, and examined it with
keen interest, then she replaced it on the table, and went to one of
the huge chests. She opened it without difficulty, and took out a
small phial, containing about a dozen white lozenges. She shook out
two or three on the table, and, taking one, she placed it in her
mouth. The two men hesitated a few moments, but Earani picking up two
more with her dainty fingers, held them out, and dropped one into the
hand of each. Alan put his into his mouth immediately, but Barry
examined his curiously, and then looked up.

"What's it taste like, Dun?"

"Can't say--a little saline. Try your own."

"I think I'd like to analyse it. It may be a whole meal," answered
Barry.

"I hope it is, then. I haven't had anything since morning, and that
seems days ago. Talk about my behaviour, do you usually analyse what
refreshment your hostess offers you?"

Dick chuckled. "I'm a married man, Dun, but I'll risk it. I wish I had
your simple faith, though," and he followed Alan's example by putting
the lozenge into his mouth. "Now, Alan, my son, it's seven-thirty, and
I think we had better say good-night to Madam or Mademoiselle Earani.
I wonder if that wound is right, though."

He pointed to the bandages inquiringly. Earani touched it lightly, and
shook her head with a smile.

Barry snapped the clasp of his bag, and took up his hat, and Alan,
seeing no excuse possible for lingering, followed his example.
Divining their intention, Earani walked with them towards the
curtained doorway. Alan lifted the curtain, and she passed out into
the portico, and walked to the spot before the chair where Dundas had
discovered the hidden button. She stooped and examined the place for a
moment, and looked up at him smiling. "You had plenty of luck to find
the right spot, Dun," was Dick's comment.

"Not luck, dear chap--brains. Earani knows it, too." As if though to
confirm his own estimate, she stood up and held out her hand to him,
with a few soft caressing words that made Alan's heart thump as he
took her soft fingers into his.

"Look here, Dun, I'm not going to stay here all night while you teach
your foundling English. Kitty will be worrying herself to death," and
Dick turned to walk towards the antechamber. Earani called his name
softly and brought him to a standstill; then beckoning them to follow,
she led the way, not to the antechamber but round the back of the
"temple" towards the great translucent doors that led to the
vestibule. They followed in silence. Arrived before the closed doors
Earani bent down and pressed with her fingers on a spot in the mosaic
pavement near the wall, and instantly the great doors silently slid
apart. This disclosed the metal curtain that had crushed Alan's hopes
of entrance by that means, and incidentally his plank bridge, by which
he had hoped to span the trap before it. The look she gave Alan showed
that she quite understood what had happened, but, not the slightest
disconcerted, she crossed over and pressed the pavement again on the
other side of the doorway, and with a deep booming the curtain
ascended, opening the way at last directly to the vestibule. "By Jove,
Dun! No wonder you said the place was full of machinery. This saves a
long walk, though I'd like to have another look at that Art Gallery."
He was stepping forward, but Alan caught him back.

"Steady, Dick; 'ware sudden death!" Dick balked and looked from Dundas
to Earani inquiringly. The latter, who understood Alan's action
thoroughly, stood in the doorway a moment, and with deft fingers
manipulated part of the moulding in the frame. Then without the
slightest hesitation she crossed the threshold and stood on the trap
itself, which remained firm as the surrounding pavement. In a few
words Alan told Dick of the hidden danger beneath their feet, and
Barry gave a terse and caustic opinion of the place and its
construction in return.

The three paused at the foot of the stairway, and Alan with a sigh
realised that he now must really lose sight of Earani, for the time
being at least. With the two doors now open, the vestibule was flooded
with light, and it seemed a proper setting for her regal beauty. Dick,
who made the move, for he realised that if he left it to Alan, that
dazzled man would linger indefinitely, so bowing to Earani, he held
out his hand and said good-night, and commenced to ascend the
stairway. Until he was half-way up Alan waited; then he took her hand
gently and whispered: "Good-night, Earani beloved!" That universal
language that has no spoken words nor written signs, said more than
words or deed, for Earani answered in the same low voice in imitation
of his words: "Good-night, Alan Dundas, beloved!" Alan knew that the
words to her were words only, but inwardly he registered a wild vow
that sooner or later he would teach her their meaning, and hear them
spoken in good faith. Meantime the shadow was something, if he could
not have the substance. Then he turned and followed Dick, who was
impatiently calling from the upper landing.




CHAPTER XVIII


THE two men were obliged to climb the winding stairway in the dark, as
Alan, with his wits full of one subject, had forgotten the acetylene
lamp, and, in consequence, that weary journey, long at any time,
seemed endless.

They emerged at last, breathless, into a cold and uninviting night,
that made a keen contrast with the wonderful surroundings they had so
recently left. Not a word passed between them as they walked to the
homestead. Arrived there, while Alan lit his lamp, Dick dropped back
into the cane lounge, and produced his pipe. Dundas adjusted his lamp
to his satisfaction. Then he came to anchor in an arm-chair, and
reached for a pipe from the rack beneath the mantelpiece. Until a
cloud of smoke encircled the head of each, no word was spoken. Finally
Alan broke the silence with an interrogative "Well, Dick?" Even then
it was some minutes before Barry answered. "I suppose I'm awake, Dun.
I'll take it for granted that I'm sane, but upon my word, I'd almost
doubt it if my legs didn't ache so infernally from climbing that
everlasting corkscrew."

"It took me a long time to get over that feeling," then after a pause,
"Man to man, Dick, say what you think."

Barry eyed Alan over the bowl of his pipe thoughtfully before
answering. "Do you know, Dun, that it is by saying what one thinks in
abnormal circumstances, that a man runs the risk of losing a pal, even
his best. I'd like to sleep on it."

"Tosh, man, get it out! I'm not a kid, and this is no subject for a
kindergarten." He smiled at Barry's wrinkled forehead. "Counsel for
the prosecution will now address the court."

Dick smiled, in spite of himself. "All the same, old man, it's the
least humorous situation I've ever steered into. Do you consider the
possibilities?"

"I've done nothing else since I first set feet on the floor of the
vestibule. Dick, I've argued myself into imbecility, and finally found
that the only thing was to let matters take their course. At any rate,
for weal or woe, we are committed to secrecy."

"Speaking from a purely personal point of view, I'm not sorry," said
Barry reflectively. "To tell a yarn like this in cold blood is
inviting comment on one's mental state. On the other hand--" He broke
off, and stared blindly at the blue smoke over his head.

"Well, on the other hand?" queried Alan.

"We may," went on Barry, slowly, "be committing the greatest blunder,
if not the greatest crime against society the world has ever known."

"It's a crude way of putting it, Dick, but I'll admit something of the
kind has struck me before, but would trumpeting the thing to the world
at large improve matters? I doubt it."

Barry sat up straight on the lounge, which creaked under his weight,
and waved his pipe largely. "By thunder, Dun," he broke out, "you ask
me to speak man to man, and I will. Apart from Earani, there is enough
in those galleries to start the nations raiding. Even from the merest
superficial knowledge you have how, you must see the possibility of
powers there that will make the individual or nation that possesses
them supreme in the world, and absolute supremacy for man or nation is
the worst thing that could happen to him or it or the world. Do you
think for an instant that a government would let an individual get
hold of those powers? Or do you suppose that other nations would let
one government keep them if there was a ghost of a show of stealing
them? Dun, there is enough potential trouble under our feet to make
this place of yours the storm centre of hell itself."

"On your own showing, Dick, secrecy is the better plan," put in Alan.

"Well, is it?" went on Barry. "Remember it's bound to come out some
time. But I said at first, 'Apart from Earani.' Dun, old man, without
the slightest personal reflection on her, I believe she is the
greatest danger of all."

Alan laughed good-humouredly. "Dick, old man, without the slightest
personal reflection on yourself, you've got rats in your garret," he
mimicked.

"Maybe," answered Dick, laughing. "An affair of this kind is apt to
breed that kind of rodent, but I'm not blind, Dun. God knows, no one
could blame you, whoever laid eyes on her." He spoke very soberly.
"I've heard of the fatal gift of beauty. A medical man is supposed to
see a patient and nothing else, but when I saw her lying there the
sheer glory of her almost took my breath away. Thank God, I'm safely
anchored, but there are men who would knife you for a word from her."

"I'll believe you there, Dick," said Alan grimly, "there is not much
I'd stop at for her."

"Just so, Dun, I understand; but that's not all. Judging from
appearances, she is as highly endowed mentally as she is physically,
and if I'm not mistaken there is nothing in those galleries that she
does not understand. Why does she want to remain hidden? Simply to get
a working knowledge of our world and then to use her own knowledge for
her own purposes. God send that those purposes are benevolent and not
malevolent."

Alan listened with half-closed eyes to Barry's words. For a while he
remained silent. "Granted everything you say is right, Dick, we can
alter nothing now. Suppose I gave you permission to speak, if you got
anyone to believe you, do you think the course of events could be
altered? I doubt it. We lost control of everything the moment Earani
rose from the couch. No, Dick, arguing is no good. We've just to go
on. I can't believe that a creature so perfectly beautiful can do
anything but for the best."

Barry sighed and knocked the ashes from his pipe. "I'll keep in touch,
Dun, and do what I can. Apart from everything else, I'm starving to
get at those galleries again."

"Great Scott, Dick!" said Alan, jumping up, "you must be starving for
food, too. You must have something before you go."

Barry laughed. "What about yourself, Alan. I thought you said when we
tried those lozenges you were feeling famished?"

Dundas paused with a surprised look on his face. "Well, that's queer.
It's nearly half-past eight, and I've had nothing since eight this
morning, and before I took that lozenge I felt positively hollow, and
now--well, I'm feeling quite comfy, and well fed. I wonder?"

"My symptoms exactly, Dun," returned Dick, "but I've been watching for
them myself, and watching you, too. Under normal conditions you would
have gone straight for a feed as soon as you came back. Instead, you
sat down for a smoke. It seems to me that we had a meal in tabloid
form."

"It's a mere detail, I suppose," said Alan from the cupboard. "I'm
beginning to accept that sort of thing as perfectly natural. By Jove!
Dick, what a field we have before us." He placed two glasses, a
sparklet, and a decanter on the table. "Since we've dined, this is the
only kind of hospitality that occurs to me."

"Oh, well, a small one, then, and I must be off. I promised Walton I'd
look in at the hospital when I got back."

"Oh! That reminds me," said Alan suddenly. "I must write a note. Will
you post it for me? I won't be long."

"Fire away, old man; I don't suppose ten minutes more or less will make
any difference now," and Barry resumed his place on the lounge with
his glass in his hand. Dundas took writing material from his drawer,
and for a few minutes scribbled industriously. He felt it a relief, as
things fell out, he had but little time to reflect on what he had to
write. There was an uneasy feeling at his heart that he was not
altogether playing the game. However, this was the note that Barry
presently put into his pocket for the mail:

"Dear Miss Seymour.--It was indeed kind of you to think of inviting me
to dinner, and I am more than sorry that I am at present not
altogether master of my own movements. That I am not is doubtless my
own fault. However, as things fall out I am tied to 'Cootamundra,' and
am likely to be for some time to come. The work I have undertaken,
although successful, carries with it the penalty of absolute
retirement, so I trust you will forgive my refusal, which at a later
date will explain itself. If you should see Dr. Barry I have no doubt
that he will assure you that I have no idea of taking holy orders.--
Yours very sincerely, Alan Dundas."

He sealed the letter without reading it over, and handed it to Barry.

"By the way, Dick, Bryce has kindly spread the fiction for me that I
am studying hard, to account for my absence from Glen Cairn. He does
not know a single fraction of what has happened. He did it blindly for
me. I hope you don't mind keeping it up for me if you are asked?"

Dick chuckled. "Not altogether fiction. If anyone can claim to be
studying hard, you can. I might also say you have started a school,
but I won't. Dun, I envy you, that's a fact. I do ask, though, that
you'll let me share when you can."

Alan walked with him to the car. "I'll expect you out every time you
can get a chance. I'll want someone to talk things over with. Another
thing. Tomorrow will you order a selection of all the child's alphabet
and picture books and first readers, and anything of the kind you can
see, to be sent out? You know the sort of thing I want. If I'm
starting a school I might as well do it properly."

Dick promised to do his best, and the two shook hands. "God send we
are not doing anything we'll be sorry for, Dun," said Barry soberly,
"and for you especially I hope things will turn out well. I don't want
to croak, but we are taking devilish big risks. Good night, old man."

"Good night, Dick. Remember me to Madam Kitty. Tell her that I kept
you, and make my apologies." Dick sent the clutch home, and the car
skimmed off into the darkness, and until the glare of the headlights
disappeared round the track Alan stood watching it thoughtfully. Then,
regardless of the chill night air, for a long hour he paced the
verandah, with his thoughts in a golden cloud. And, ever as he walked,
before his eyes rose a vision of starry eyes set in a face of heavenly
beauty.

Alan was astir early next morning. He made his toilet with unusual
thought and care for his personal appearance. Then he set about his
household work with a light heart, and for the first time for many days
his voice, raised in song, boomed through the old homestead. He prepared
his breakfast and washed up, and went through all the rest of the
domestic routine with his thoughts full of the day before him. When all
was finished and his house in order he went to his book-shelves and
busied himself over the selection of half a dozen volumes best fitted
for his requirements.

It took him a long time to make up his mind, for comparatively few of
the books in his library were illustrated. First he put aside a fine
atlas. His next choice fell on an old school prize illustrated with
photographs of the world's famous and historic buildings. Then, after
much inward debate, he selected four volumes of travel that contained
pictures showing the world in its most varied aspects. By the time he
had completed his task it was nearly ten o'clock, so, deciding that he
might reasonably pay his first call at this hour, he strapped the
books together and made his way to the shed, having first procured a
second lamp from his dogcart to supply the place of the one he had
left behind the night before.

Light of heart and quivering with expectation, he made his way into
the depths. Arrived at the first landing, he extinguished his lamp,
and descended into the vestibule, alert for any sound that might
indicate the presence of Earani. At the foot of the stairs he halted.
All was as he had left it on the preceding evening. The great
vestibule was flooded with light, showing the statued group in the
centre in strangely lifelike guise. Not a sound broke the stillness.
For a moment his heart fell. Could anything have happened to her, he
wondered. For a while he listened motionless, and then to warn her of
his coming, he called her name aloud, "Earani! Earani!" And then
almost instantly his heart gave a bound of joy--for the words had
scarcely died away when in answer came the clear, sweet voice, "Alan
Dundas," and followed by a few words in her language.

Again calling her name, Alan hurried to the sixth gallery without
further hesitation. As he came to the portico of the "temple" he saw
her standing on the threshold, holding back the curtain with one hand,
and as his eyes fell on her he stood stock still, with one foot on the
step. The glory of her beauty came on him with overwhelming force.
Truly she was the same woman he had seen lying in silent majesty on
the couch, the same as he had seen flush back into glowing life, but
now there was an added freshness to her loveliness. It seemed as if
the few hours of new life she had lived had added something to her;
she seemed to radiate vitality. The gown she had worn before was
changed for one of pale gold that fell from her neck and was caught at
the waist by a pliant, glittering metallic band. Over it was a cloak
of deeper hue, held in place by an iridescent clasp on either
shoulder. As she stood looking down on him, with a smile of friendly
welcome on her lips, Alan felt that no man of his race had ever before
gazed on such a picture. So they stood for a moment, and the man, safe
in her ignorance of the meaning of his words, said softly: "Oh,
beloved, beloved; God send that I may teach you all that is in my
heart or my life will be of little value to me hereafter." Perhaps it
was the ring in his voice or the adoration in his eyes that lent
meaning to his words, for, though her eyes never left his, he saw
again, as he had seen before, a deeper flush come over her face as he
stepped forward and took her outstretched hand. Then she drew aside
the curtain, and they entered side by side.

At the first glance Alan saw that Earani had used the time at her
disposal to effect certain alterations in her surroundings. Across the
far end of the "temple" and cutting off about one-third of its length,
there hung a gorgeous curtain that divided the place into two
compartments. The couch still remained in its place, but nearly all
the other furniture had been rearranged, and for the moment Alan found
time to wonder how her unaided strength had enabled her to move the
various pieces that had before tried his strength to the uttermost. He
noticed, too, that she had adorned her quarters with several objects
that he recognised as coming from the art gallery, and he was deeply
impressed by the taste and discrimination with which the alterations
had been carried out. It appeared as if she had done everything
possible to make her surroundings harmonise with her personality. As
he approached the table they had been using the night before he saw
lying on it a number of the cased volumes that had doubtless been
brought there from the library. It was apparent that Earani had been
struck with the same idea on the matter of communications that he had
and it was with no little pleasure that Alan found she evinced the
deepest curiosity in the volumes he carried with him. No sooner had he
removed the straps than she eagerly took possession of them, skimming
through them quickly one after another, all the while keeping up a
running comment in her melodious tongue.

It was not until she came on the atlas that she paused seriously. At
the first sight of the map she gave a little gurgle of pleasure, and,
drawing up a seat to the table, she motioned Alan to do the same. Her
manner was perfectly natural and free from affectation, and the
interest she displayed was evidently no mere feminine curiosity, but a
deep and sincere desire for information.

With the atlas before them, she pushed it before Alan with the
intention that he should act as instructor, and it was with wonder
that he found how little there was he could show her that she did not
immediately comprehend. When he turned to the Mercator's projection
and the pages showing the hemispheres, she pored over the maps long
and thoughtfully, here and there running her fingers along a
coastline, murmuring to herself the while, and again turning to him
with some quick question. Alan found it increasingly difficult to
devote his attention to the book with the overpowering distraction of
their intimate proximity, and his eyes were oftener on her white hands
than on the map, and his thoughts were more of her eyes than of the
division of the globe into land and water. For some time she appeared
to be trying to make him understand some point in which she was
interested, until at last Dundas arrived at the idea that she wanted
their own position, shown. Taking his pocket knife (which was
immediately carefully examined by her and handed back) he marked the
point on the map of Australia where 'Cootamundra' would be, and then
turned to the detailed maps to show her the more exact position. After
a close study of the place, turning from map to map, she stood up, and
motioning him to remain seated, ran lightly from the room. She was
only a few minutes absent before she returned, breathless from her
hurry, bearing in her hand a volume from the library, and spread it
open beside the atlas. It was Alan's turn to mutter exclamations of
surprise now, for Earani turned from page to page, showing him charts
of the world that were new to his eyes and yet in some details
strangely familiar. They showed land in some places where he was used
to seeing water, and the continents in some places took strange
outlines. But with it all was one great difference. The whole scheme
of things seemed altered with regard to latitude. Masses of land that
he recognised in outline as belonging to the southern part of
Australia were placed near the equator, and there were other
displacements and dislocations that set up between the two a chatter
of inquiry. It was evident to Alan that Earani understood the reason
of his perplexity, and held the key of the puzzle, and seemed only too
eager to impart her knowledge; but after a vigorous comparison of the
two maps Alan was left as much as ever in the dark. In the end Earani
laughingly took the two books, closed them with a bang, and put them
aside.

Then she turned to the works of travel, and here they were on more
even ground, and it was from the pictures that Alan started to give
his pupil her first lessons in English.

If you ask a person whose lot it is in life to act as instructor to
the ignorant in any subject, his or her opinion of teaching as a
profession, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the answer will be
that the calling is one of hopeless drudgery. To Dundas, who was now
undertaking it for the first time, his role of instructor appealed to
him as the most fascinating and delightful experience of his life. He
could sit side by side with his pupil, and look into her eyes as he
talked to her, and laugh with her as her red, sensitive lips framed
words that were new to them. He illustrated the words he taught her
practically, and ever as they talked deep in their work, her ready wit
met his half way or more. Even in the first hours of their intimacy
Alan came to recognise that the intelligence of his pupil was of no
mean order. Her memory was phenomenal, and rarely, if ever, did a word
once given her escape her mind. The pictures they had before them
proved a splendid ground for study, and Alan was never tired of
watching her face light up with each object of interest that came
under her notice.

Growing tired of the books at last, she led him out into the gallery,
pausing, much to Alan's trepidation, to add to her store of English,
by an entirely self-possessed and unconcerned analysis of the anatomy
of the three figures in the portico. From him she had quickly picked
up the phrase, "What is it?" and this was ever on her tongue, and
before they had resumed their walk she had mastered the names of every
limb and joint in the human frame, with a total unconsciousness of her
teacher's uneasiness. They passed down to the marble ante-chamber, and
here Alan found that by some means, best known to herself, she had
overcome the trouble of the outrageous noises that made it such a
nerve-racking ordeal to cross. He had paused as they came to the
doorway, but she had gone on unconcerned, and turned and beckoned him
forward, smiling. She stayed for a few minutes before the statue,
looking at it thoughtfully, and then passed to the corridor till they
came to the spot outside the machinery gallery, where Alan's curiosity
had ended in such startling results. Here a surprise awaited him.
Every vestige of the masses of cement torn down by the explosion had
disappeared. He had long before cleared away the lighter pieces to
make a convenient passage, but there were larger pieces that had
defied his attempts to move them. How in the few hours at her disposal
she had managed to complete the work was a mystery that no amount of
chatter between them could, for the moment, clear up. That Earani
understood the cause of the wreckage was evident from her leading him
directly to the innocent-looking machine that had caused the trouble.
There Alan showed her in pantomime what had happened, and from her
concerned air, he realised that the danger that he had escaped was
greater than he suspected. She motioned him to stand aside, and for
some time busied herself with the machine, which showed itself to be
more complex than it appeared. It was not until her deft fingers had
removed the lever that operated it that she was satisfied with her
work. To Alan, who stood by, absorbed in her every movement it was
patent that she was thoroughly familiar with its mechanism.

The task completed, they wandered through the gallery, and ever as
they went the words, "What is it?" came with a ceaseless repetition
that strained his knowledge of mechanics to the breaking point. When
they arrived at the great doors leading to the vestibule Earani
immediately operated the mechanism that opened them. In this, as in
everything else that she did, Alan was struck by the assured certainty
of her movements. There was no hesitation or pause for thought,
although, in this instance and that of the remaining three doors which
she afterwards opened, the key was concealed with marvellous skill in
different parts of the doors themselves, so that their discovery would
have defied the closest search by anyone ignorant of their secret.
Another matter that was subject of attention was the pitfalls in the
vestibule, which were visited in turn and secured by Earani against
danger to life and limb by much careful adjustment of concealed
mechanism.

Amongst other things she visited the stairway, where the hidden blade
had been in action, and here the weights, still hanging on the step,
told their own tale, a tale that she was quick to read and appreciate.

And so they wandered on from gallery to gallery, and everywhere she
added new words to her store. Dundas tested her memory again and again
at every turn, and in each instance the correct answer to his question
would come without hesitation or mistake.

When they arrived at the Biological Gallery Alan showed some
repugnance at entering, but Earani's white hand placed on his arm drew
him forward with his scruples banished. Without pausing to examine or
question him on the gruesome exhibits, she walked with him directly to
the statue at its entrance from the vestibule, and came to a stand
before the table that bore the instrument that had excited his
curiosity in the hands of the statue. He had endeavoured before to
remove the cover from the table, but without success, and, after the
first attempt, had abandoned the idea. Now, however, at the touch from
her fingers on the frame of the cover, Earani raised the glass shade,
and removed the instrument. Alan watched her with the deepest
interest. With her eyes she questioned his knowledge of its use, to
which he pleaded ignorance with a shake of his head. Standing close in
front of him, Earani raised the metal circlet in both hands, and set
it on his head. It fitted closely round his forehead, without
discomfort. The wires attached on either side held the small cylinder
suspended dangling to his waist, Taking the cylinder in her right
hand, she placed the open end against her left wrist, and, looking up
at Alan, she closed her eyes. Dundas watched the performance with
lively curiosity, and took advantage of her momentary blindness to
feast his eyes anew on her face. In a moment she opened her eyes, and,
laughing softly, shook her head in mock anger, and repeated the word
"eyes" several times. Then, as he could not guess her meaning, she
dropped the cylinder, and her two soft hands went up to his face, with
a touch that made him quiver. Then she quietly pressed down his
eyelids, and, understanding what her wishes were, he kept them closed.

He could feel her move the cylinder again, then suddenly he started
back with a cry of astonishment, and stood looking down in amazement
at her wrist. Earani still held the cylinder in her hand, and regarded
his astonishment with evident amusement. He had ample cause for his
surprise, for when he had closed his eyes, and only then, because the
impression ceased as soon as they were opened, it appeared as though
the wrist of Earani had become transparent, and showed with perfect
distinction every tissue, muscle, and blood vessel as if formed in
glass. He could see the blood pulsing through every vein, and every
movement of the tiny valves as it passed through them. It was only a
fleeting glance, for, so soon as he realised what he saw, he started
back. The sensation was a curious one, for every surrounding object
was out of range of vision, and it seemed as if he had looked down a
cylinder into her wrist.

Still smiling, Earani placed the cylinder in his hand, and indicated
his own wrist, and, urged by his curiosity, Dundas repeated the
experiment on himself, and, for a long time, stood with closed eyes
fascinated by the wonderful mechanism revealed by the apparently
simple cylinder. As he stood he felt Earani's gentle touch on his
hands, and all became dark. Opening his eyes, he saw that she had
removed the instrument from his wrist. Then approaching more closely,
she placed the lens against his neck. Obeying her mute orders, he
again closed his eyes, and Dundas realised to the full how fearfully
and wonderfully we are made, by the vision of pulsing torrent in vein
and artery, and the perfect harmony of movement in muscle and tissue
revealed. Unused as he was to such things, his great wonder at what he
saw overcame his repugnance, and when he finally opened his eyes he
dimly realised how much this wonder he held in his hands deserved its
place of honour in the gallery.

Earani returned the instrument to its place, and together they
wandered into the great vestibule. Here Alan, indicating the stairway,
invited her to ascend, but, standing at its foot, she shook her head,
and many days passed before she finally ventured into upper air.
Instead, they returned to the "temple," and Alan continued his
tuition.

The day was far spent when he finally left her, more desperately
fascinated than before by her beauty and charm. It was the first of
many such days, and time for Dundas fled on golden wings. Barry was a
constant visitor to 'Cootamundra.' He had carried into effect Alan's
wish for books, and the short interval between each visit he made was
marked by a progress in the pupil that was a constant source of
astonishment to both men. They were not long in discovering that the
intelligence of Earani was of no common order. Her phenomenal memory
was the least of her powers. Whatever was given to it was retained
clearly and accurately, but what was more remarkable was her ability
to apply unerringly and unhesitatingly the lessons that Dundas gave
her in the rules that governed the language. In a fortnight she was
able to make herself understood clearly, and at the end of the month
she had a command of English that anyone who was unaware of the
circumstances would have judged had taken a year or two of study to
absorb. In addition to this she had learned to read and write. Not
easily, it is true, but with a proficiency that left her two tutors in
a constant state of wonder. Where another would have tired with the
constant strain of the work involved, the progress she made only
seemed to whet her appetite for more, and when she had mastered the
elements of her task Dundas discovered that when he left her at the
day's end, as she always insisted, she enlarged on her lessons when
she was by herself.

On one point, however, Earani was adamant in her resolution. She had
decreed that until she became mistress of the language she would tell
them nothing of the mystery that surrounded her, nor would she allow
them to penetrate the secrets of the galleries. She told them both
that her reason was that until she could unfold her story fluently,
and without fear of being misunderstood, she would not touch upon it
at all, and no attempts on the part of either Alan or Barry could make
her waver.

With such a reward in sight, Dundas strove with her to reach the
desired point of proficiency, and the task involved far more than he
had expected. Command of the English language was not all she
demanded. An outline of the world's political history and its social
customs was a minor part of the rest. She wanted a knowledge of
government, ancient and modern, of laws new and old. Her demands on
Alan's scientific knowledge strained his slender resources to the
breaking point. It was a fascinating task for Alan, apart from the
delight he took in being constantly in her society. That wonderful
memory he had to deal with made the work very easy. Nothing that was
ever given to it was lost or mislaid. There was no feeling for the
right word when once it had been stored in her mind. In eight weeks
she could read almost anything that was given to her, and once she had
gained this point her progress increased by leaps and bounds. Alan
selected her books carefully from his library, and alternatively they
read aloud to one another. In accent and inflection she imitated him
exactly, and more than once some phrase or expression of Alan's
falling from her lips caused Barry to smile in spite of himself.

Apart from the pleasure that both took in instructing their pupil,
there were occasional flashes from the hidden depths of her mind that
gave them food for reflection. One day Alan had given her an outline
of the history of the Constitution of Great Britain, and a general
survey of the Empire and the Imperial idea, and from that had drifted
to the Constitution of the Commonwealth. She had absorbed it all,
making very little comment, as was her custom, merely interposing with
an incisive query on any point on which she was not quite clear. "That
is as it should be, Alan," she said at the end. "It is well that the
people should choose their own lawmakers, and, of course, the people
are wise and choose the greatest and noblest minds amongst them for a
position so high." It was a comment rather than a question as she said
it, and as Alan felt disinclined at the time to enter into a lecture
on the party system he let it go at that, with certain mental
reservations.

However, on the next day he found that a weekly journal had published
a double page, giving portraits of the whole of the members of both
the Federal Houses. As a matter of interest he brought her the
journal, and showed her the portraits. For a long time Earani sat
absorbed, and watching her, Alan saw that her eyes went from face to
face and stayed for a little while with each. In the end she looked up
at him. "Alan, my friend, but you jest with me. These are not the
lawmakers of a nation." Alan shrugged his shoulders, and glanced round
at Barry, who had come in while Earani sat absorbed in the portraits.
"It is true, Earani," said Barry; "those are the men that the people
have chosen to rule them." She sat in silence for a space, staring
doubtfully from one to the other. "Why do you doubt it, Earani?" asked
Alan, smiling at her serious face. She answered quietly, "I have the
gift of reading the faces of men, and in that I cannot fail. You show
me rogues and fools, and you show me some who are both. Amongst them
all there are few whose faces bear the marks of the nobility that
should alone fit them for such an office, and yet you tell me that
these are your lawmakers chosen by your people." She stopped and
picked up the page that had fallen from her lap, and spread it on the
table before her. "Look," she went on, and the two men stood beside
her as the condemning finger passed from face to face. "You see it
printed there--lust of power; avarice; a rogue--another. See this one
with a mind a little better than the beasts. Could he weigh good from
bad or right from wrong? Could this one foresee or gauge the effect of
any law?" And so on from face to face, summing up each in two or three
caustic words. Once she paused. "Though they are not all the same--
here is one--this is a leader and a man. Were they all like this the
people had done well. What is his name, Alan?"

"He is known as Sir Miles Glover, and he is the Prime Minister of the
country. He has been honoured by our King for the work he has done for
the country," answered Alan.

Earani looked at the clear, clean-cut face and nodded while Barry put
in, "Sometimes they call him Cold Steel. He has few friends, but those
that don't love, trust him."

Earani spoke. "That is likely. Such a man does not make friends
easily, especially amongst such people." She waved a contemptuous hand
over the legislators. "I will remember the name. Later I shall have
use for him." The two men looked at each other over her head, and
Earani tossed the page aside. "Are your people mad, or is this the
best the country can get for the work? Of them all only two or three
are fitted for it."

Barry chuckled with delight at Alan's irritated face. "Come, Dun, give
Earani the history of Party Government, and tell her of the wisdom of
democracy." And Alan, half amused and half angry, explained how the
candidates were selected and finally elected.

"So that," said Earani at the end, "if there are only two parties in
the State there are only two candidates?"

"Generally speaking, that is so," answered Dundas.

"Even supposing one were a great and good man, and the other but a
tool for the party leaders, would not the people choose the better
man?"

Barry interposed. "If the greatest statesman who ever lived opposed a
nominated hod-carrier, with the brain of a chimpanzee, the statesman
would not be elected in some of the constituencies; in fact, in most
of them. The preference of the people is for the party's nominee."

"The preference of swine for offal," was the terse comment. With her
hands on the table before her, Earani stared in front of her with
unseeing eyes, unheeding Barry's huge delight at her words. Presently
she spoke in a low voice, and as one thinking aloud. "Ah, there will
be a great killing--a great killing." Then she stood up. "Come, Dick,
there are things you must tell me before you go," and she led the way
to the Biological Gallery. On both her hearers the few absently-spoken
words left a deep impression, and although more than once Alan
attempted to learn her meaning, she deftly turned the question aside.

In these visits to the Biological Gallery, Barry was in his glory. Once
her brain had mastered the scientific nomenclature, Earani proved
herself to be versed in the subject to an extent that staggered the
doctor, and at times left him breathless with a hint at theories
undreamt of in his philosophy.

Since he had been shown the wonders of the cylinder, he had been made
Earani's abject slave by the promise that when the time came he would
be allowed to reveal it to the world. Alan's part in these
demonstrations had been that of a subject or an onlooker, and in his
own mind it was difficult to decide which role he liked least. For on
the first day it had been put into his hands, Barry raved deliriously
on its wonders and its revolutionary effect on medical science. "See
what it means, Dun, dear boy. No more blind groping in the dark. No
more summing up of symptoms and guessing at causes. Man alive, think
of it! I can fill you up with drugs and note the effect on every organ
just as it occurs. We will be able to watch the progress of every
disease under the sun." He had delivered himself, so, kneeling over
Alan's prostrate form, pausing now and again with the cylinder pressed
to his body, and muttering incoherently with closed eyes. Earani stood
by, smiling at his enthusiasm, which she brought almost to a tearful
climax by showing him how to adjust the instrument in order to get
microscopic results.

With Alan as a not altogether willing subject, Earani and Barry would
join in demonstrations over his body with a detachment from his
personality and a disregard for his feelings that called forth a storm
of protest from their victim. Barry's compliments as to his perfect
physical organisation were no compensation for the treatment he
received, although he realised that so far as he was concerned neither
one nor the other was aware of his existence for the time being apart
from the subject under discussion.

He had revenge on Dick, however, when that worthy came into conflict
with Earani on technical subjects. Beyond their outline Alan was at
sea as to their importance, but he could not fail to observe Dick's
indignation at her calm and assured smashing of some of his most
revered theories, or her smiling disregard for the argument he adduced
to support their tottering fabrics. It was with huge delight that Alan
saw expressions of amazement give way to blank dismay at some
carelessly dropped remark from Earani. Neither man could help feeling
that her positive statements were made by reason of an assured
knowledge of her subject. To Alan there was only a mischievous delight
at Barry's defeat, but for Barry her voice stirred a veil that no man
of all his order had hoped to approach, and vaguely he foresaw the
opening of vistas undreamt of by the world.

It was not long, however, before Barry recognised the master mind and,
eagerly sought her wisdom, and if he was eager in seeking, Earani was
not slow in giving. So it came about that at times, Alan listened to
staggering discussions. He was no prude, but there were moments when
he felt his cheeks grow hot while Earani and Dick argued on matters
Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis have merely whispered. He need not
have worried: it but needed a glance at the calm, dispassionate face
of Earani to know that to her the subject was one that caused her no
reason for self-consciousness.

Often she quietly referred some astonishing phase of the matter to him
with as little embarrassment as if she had mentioned the state of the
weather. And they realised that questions that scientists discussed in
the dead languages and at long range were to her matters for everyday
discussion rather than ones to be avoided.

These visits left Barry in a strange state of perturbation. One
evening when Alan chaffed him over some recent defeat at Earani's
hands, he turned on his tormentor. "Dun, my friend, you wouldn't be so
festive on my account if you realised as much as I do the meaning of
it all. If I were to propound one fraction of what Earani leads me to
believe or hope for, my brethren in the profession would first tear me
to pieces, and then fling the bleeding fragments into a lunatic
asylum."

"Knocked some of your precious theories out, Dicky?"

"Pulverised them," answered Barry shortly. Then he went on: "And
believe me, Alan, I've an idea that biology is not her strongest
subject. I firmly am beginning to think that there is not a single
thing in those galleries she does not understand."

Dundas smiled incredulously. "Oh! come off, Dick. Why she's only a
girl. On your own showing she knows more about medicine and surgery
than you ever dreamed about. How could it be possible that at her age
she could have given time to any other subject?"

Barry was putting on his gauntlets, and turned, flapping the empty
fingers at his friend. "You remember last week, when she let me
inspect her brain through that cylinder, and you so rudely refused to
follow my lead?"

"Of course I do," answered Alan; "it seemed to me to be a beastly
idea. Even you, from your expression, didn't like it."

Barry regarded his friend thoughtfully. "You misread my expression,
Dun. I got a shock, and I'll admit it, but not the kind you imagine.
Her brain, my dear boy, is the most astonishing organ I ever beheld.
It is as far in advance in development of mine or yours as ours is in
advance of an ape's. Apart from anything else. I should say that its
weight is half as much again as my own, and in other respects--well,
as a layman, you wouldn't appreciate the difference; but if I
described it to Walton, for instance, he'd say I invented the yarn,
and I wouldn't blame him, either."

"Then from your point of view she's as perfect mentally as she is
physically?" said Alan.

"Just so," answered Barry, and then, after a pause: "Did you ever find
out what she meant by 'a great killing' in reference to our noble
legislators?"

Alan laughed. "Surely you don't take that expression literally, Dick?"

"Not quite," answered Barry, stepping into his car. "Although we could
spare a good many of them. Still I'd like to know what she meant."

"Perhaps Earani was merely thinking of a reform in our legislative
system. She didn't seem to take kindly to the present state of
affairs."

"Humph. In that case she will have one enthusiastic supporter, at any
rate. Good night, Dun," and the car hummed off into the dusk. In spite
of his calm acceptance of Alan's comment, Barry's thoughts were very
sober as he sped homewards. Vaguely in his mind was the thought of a
great shadow that overhung the world.




CHAPTER XIX


AS time went on Alan came more and more under the dominance of
Earani's bewildering personality. His constant association with her
added fuel to the passionate love he bore her. Barry was his only
visitor, and he seldom left his vineyard. From early morning to late
in the evening he spent his time with her in the galleries. Dick
viewed with concern his friend's growing infatuation. He had an uneasy
feeling that the association could only lead to calamity for his
friend. Deep as their friendship was, he dared not speak to Alan on
the subject. In his heart, too, he felt that even if Dundas would
permit a warning, such a course would be useless. He realised to the
full the effect that Earani's glorious beauty and charm must have, and
more than once, to his own self-shame, he felt himself thrill under a
glance from her soft, grave eyes or the light touch of her hand, and
did penance for his involuntary disloyalty to Madam Kitty. So he could
only watch.

In some respects Alan was happy. He enjoyed to the full her constant
society. In spite of her over-towering mind, he found her exquisitely
feminine. She was, however, no creature of moods. Under all
circumstances she displayed the same unruffled calm, and always there
was the same womanly softness in voice and bearing. Sometimes, as they
sat together, she would call a halt to their lessons, and by the power
she held over the keyboard in the "temple" she would fill the great
gallery with immortal music--music that lifted Alan's soul to paradise
with its glory. These were days to remember, and feel thankful for the
joy of living. On the other hand, away from her presence, he was beset
with forebodings as to his fate. In his soul he felt his absolute
unworthiness to be the mate of this radiant being. Who was he that he
should aspire to the first place in her heart? So deep was his
reverence for her that he knew that, though the blow would break his
life, he knew also that he would accept her decision without a murmur
if it went against him. Again and again he crushed back the words that
came storming to his lips that would decide his fate. The fear of an
answer that would be the end of all things for him kept him silent. In
his heart he knew that she would not expect him to consider that their
strange relations should seal his lips from motives of chivalry.
Earani was too calmly aloof and to much a law unto herself to be
troubled by conventions. He realised thoroughly that when the time
came that he should speak, her answer would be given with no other
thought than for his and her interests. So he lived on with her,
alternating with a hope that left him weak with wild longing, and a
fear that crushed his heart to despair.

It was at the end of the third month that Earani began to tell them of
the mystery of her being, for she reserved the revelations until Barry
was there to hear them. It was one afternoon when the three were
seated together in the "temple," and the talk had touched on the
subject of geology. Barry had hazarded a second-hand opinion on the
length of time that life in any form had existed on the earth. "Ah,
Dick, my dear boy, (she had long adopted Alan's form of address), how
wildly they guess, those scientists of yours. Come: I will show you."
She took Alan's atlas from a table near by, and with it a volume from
the library. Then she called them both to the couch beside her, and
with the books on her lap to illustrate her meaning, she told them of
the world's past. "You remember, Alan, how you showed me this map on
the day after you recalled me to life?" and here she turned to the map
of the world. "Strange as it was to me then, I knew what it meant,
although the chart I was used to was so different. See, here it is,"
and she opened the other volume. "Before my eyes were closed in the
long sleep in which you found me, this was the world I knew. See,
although it is so altered, many of the lines are familiar." Their
three heads bent over the maps before them, and with her dainty
forefinger Earani traced the many places, still almost the same, on
both charts.

"Do you mean, Earani, that since you knew the world it has altered
so?" asked Alan.

"Indeed, it has altered, this old world. Can either of you wise ones
tell me the cause?" She looked smiling from one to the other.

Dick shook his head. "I pass--Alan, I leave it to you."

"And you, Alan?" Her soft white hand fluttered to his arm. "Tell this
Dick, who knows everything, how this old world was wrecked to build a
new one in its place." She smiled into his eyes.

Alan shook his head in turn, but before Earani could speak again he
broke in: "Wait, though. It may be that I can guess. Some of our men
hold that at one time the axis of the earth has moved, and that the
shock must have dislocated the whole of the surface. I have always
thought this theory fantastic, but it may fit."

Earani laughed softly, and nodding her head, she turned to Barry. "Ah,
Dick! You see Alan can use his head as well as that great strong body
of his. My teacher is worthy of the office."

"Was that really the cause, Earani?" asked both men together.

"That, indeed, is what happened. Ages and ages ago the world was
inhabited by a race of human beings just as it is to-day. It was a
race that had gone through all the trials and struggles through which
yours has passed and is passing. Some day I will tell you of it; at
present let it suffice that the race had attained to the greatest
heights humanity is capable of when the great calamity befell."

She paused for a moment, as though the picture of the great lost past
saddened her. Then she spoke again, and her voice came in a little
more than a whisper. "Our people knew of the blow that threatened long
before it fell. They were too great to fear for themselves; but they
knew that on the ashes of the wrecked world another race would arise.
They knew, too, that the new race would have to pass through the same
great trials before it won to its own high place. What they mourned
was that all the great works of their brains and hands should perish
utterly. That their race should vanish was a small thing compared with
the danger that all their great ideals should vanish with it.

"Can you think of what it meant to those who had helped in the great
work, and the men who knew the value of it? A little perhaps you can
understand, but very little, unless you knew the people of the lost
world. Oh, so long ago! And yet it seems to me so very near.

Then after a little silence she spoke again. "And so they determined
on a desperate effort to preserve their knowledge for the benefit of
the people that were to come again. They had but two hundred years in
which to work. Little time enough for their work, but it sufficed. On
each of three carefully selected spots on the earth they built a great
sphere such as the one we are now in. In the building of them they
brought to bear every grain of the great lore they had, to win their
purpose and make them invulnerable against the great calamity. Into
each of them when all was ready they gathered together a specimen of
all their art and science. The means of holding life suspended had
been known for many generations, though it was but little used. Then
it was determined that into each sphere one person should be placed to
form the link between the old world and the new."

"'Why only one in each?" asked Alan, who was following the story with
burning interest.

"The question was deeply debated at the time," she answered. "Although
we knew that for any ordinary time the body could be kept in a state
of suspended animation, yet there was no certainty that the ages that
must pass before reanimation took place, if it ever did, would not
cause the attempt to fail. Our people did not wish to condemn more
than would be necessary, to the risk of a terrible fate. There were so
many and such terrible dangers for the chosen ones to face. So in the
end three were chosen."

"How chosen?" asked Barry, eagerly.

"In the first place," she answered, "volunteers were called for.
Thousands answered the call. It was no thought of self-preservation
that brought them forward. Each one knew that there were dangers to be
faced by those who were selected that were worse than the death that
the race had to meet, but none of the old race feared death. To them
it was but an incident. No; each one was animated by the hope that in
the end it would fall to his or her lot to carry the light from the
dying race to the race unborn.

"All over the world councils were held, to which the candidates were
called, and the most fitted were sent forward to a central council,
where the final choice was made; and so it fell out in the end that I,
Earani, was thought worthy of the great honour. Why? Fate, I think;
for amongst so many there would be but small difference."

"Earani--tell us," broke in Barry. "You say there were three great
spheres. The others--what of them?"

She rose to her feet and walked to the keyboard that had been her
first thought on the day she had awakened. Turning, she faced them.
"The master builders who contrived this work left nothing to chance,
This keyboard is in everlasting connection with those in the other
two. Only absolute destruction could break the tie. Listen!" Her
fingers moved swiftly on one section of the board. Then she stood
still watching them. No sound broke the silence. After a moment she
spoke. "There is no answer to that call, and so I know that one has
failed to stand the strain of the wrecked world." Again her hands fell
on the keys, and this time a deep clear note of a bell answered her
touch. "You hear," she cried. "So Andax lives and waits for his
release."

Dundas and Barry looked at her in silence. The news of the existence
of a second sphere affected them both deeply, but in different ways.
To Barry, the news that another being of the type of Earani could be
brought to reinforce her, increased the feeling of uneasiness that had
already gained hold of him. Alan, however, saw in the news only a
threat against his love for Earani. "What," he thought, "would happen
were a man of her race to appear on the scene?" Surely he would be her
fitting mate in every way? "What chance would he have against such a
rival?" The thought sent a feeling of blind jealous rage through him.
It was he who broke the silence. "Tell me, Earani--this Andax you
speak of. Is it the name of a man or woman of your race?"

Earani left the keyboard and walked towards them. "Andax," she said
thoughtfully, as she paused before them. "Well, Andax is a man." She
looked from one to the other and smiled. "He is a man, too, who would
be difficult perhaps for you to understand without knowing him." She
sank into a great carved chair facing them. "When I said that
volunteers were called for, for the long sleep, I did not make myself
quite clear. It was decided one hundred years before the great
disaster fell that one of our race should occupy each sphere, and from
that time until the selection was made our race occupied itself with
the idea that fitting representatives should be ready when the time
came."

"Each generation was watched with increasing care. The welfare of the
unborn was almost a religion with us, aye, it was a religion with us.
Some day it will be so with you when your eyes are opened. Every rule
for the blending of human blood had been laid down long before, and we
knew the type of man we wished to breed, and worked for it." She
turned in her chair and looked down the "temple," where the curtains
were drawn wide, out into the gallery beyond at the statue that was
framed in the doorway leading to the antechamber. She waved her hand
towards the statue. "That was the man who first laid down our laws of
race making, and Andax is directly descended from him. Ah! he was a
man, and Andax is an improvement; he is twenty generations of careful
breeding better. Alan, why are you looking so angry?"

Alan pulled himself up. "Truth to tell, Earani, I don't like that
face; it looks absolutely pitiless."

She nodded slightly. "Yes, perhaps you are right. The breed had little
weakness about it. But that breed did great things for our world. All
of our best carried the strain. I have it on both sides, not much, but
enough to tell, and the blood of the old doctor holds it in check; but
in Andax it is almost pure. I grew up with him and know him well. He
has intensified in him all the characteristics of the breed. In
appearance he has the same high forehead and sparse hair, the thin
nose and the wide nostril, the straight, lipless, mouth, and the steel
bright eyes." She gave a little laugh. "Not one of the race ever had a
heart. They carried an organic pump in the thorax that was no use
except to keep their brains alive."

Barry listened with a sense of fear he could not control, but, hiding
it as best he could, he said: "Your picture isn't exactly fascinating,
Earani; I should imagine he would not be altogether a genial
companion."

She nodded. "Andax would not appeal to many people. He tolerated me.
He regarded me as a useful fool; in fact, he told me he did. He was my
tutor in surgery for my year's course, and afterwards I had two years
under him for engineering. He was angry about that. He said that if I
would let him graft one lobe of his brother's brain on to my brain he
would put me through the course in one year, and I refused." She
laughed lightly. "It was then he told me I would never be anything
more than a useful fool, and he was furious because I took up law and
literature instead of government and domestic science." She paused a
little. "Pitiless was perhaps the right word, Alan. Cold, passionless,
and calculating, all of them. Absolutely inflexible. They saw one goal
ahead, and went straight to it. There was no thought of self-interest
with any of them and no desire for power or authority for its own
sake. They looked on our world simply as one great experiment for
them. They were unflinchingly honest even with themselves. Andax there
would have vivisected me or anyone else without anaesthetics if he
thought the result would ultimately benefit the race, and at the same
time he would have sacrificed himself just as surely. And mark you, my
friends, there are stories of their doings I could tell you that are
not good to hear, but there was never an act of theirs, however
terrible, that did not bring a greater blessing in its train."

For a while there was silence; each of her hearers was busy with his
own thoughts. The picture Earani drew of the other being awaiting
release affected them both deeply. Then Barry spoke. "This other
sphere, Earani; you know where it is? Can you find it?"

"Yes," she answered; "there will be no trouble about that. Wait, I
will show you." She took the two maps to the table and bent over them.
"From your maps and ours I have worked out the alteration of the axis;
the rest is easy." She paused now and again with closed eyes, as
though mentally calculating. Then--"Yes, that will be about it,
roughly, about 74 east and between 36 and 37 north. About here." Her
finger indicated a point to the north of India. Alan turned to the map
in the atlas and ran his finger over it. Then he gave a low whistle.
"Pretty spot, isn't it, Dick? Right in the middle of the Himalayas,
about four hundred miles north-west from Simla."

"What kind of country is it, Alan?" asked Earani.

"In the world's greatest range of mountains. Almost impossible country
amongst eternal snow, and only partially known. Earani, a search there
would be hopeless," answered Dundas, with rising spirits. "Why the
sphere might be buried beneath the mountains a thousand feet."

"It is likely you are right," came the unruffled answer. "Indeed, it
is almost sure to be so, for before the disaster that spot was a great
tableland. Still our work will be simple. Once we reach the locality I
can ascertain the position of the sphere with absolute accuracy, and
the rest will be easy."

"Even if it were buried?" interposed Barry.

"The depth is of no importance. A thousand feet or ten thousand, I
have the means at hand. You will understand later." Her calm assurance
left both her hearers hopeless. She dismissed the matter with a
gesture of her hand. "Time enough to talk of Andax. First I must be
ready to tell him all he will want to know, and believe me, he will be
hungry for knowledge when the time comes." Barry looked bewildered,
and Earani, noticing his expression, smiled. "Oh, Dick! There are so
many things you do not know yet. What troubles you?"

"I was wondering at the moment how old Andax is, or rather was, when
he started the long sleep."

"We were born in the same year," she answered. "He is just twenty-five.
The twenty-seven millions of years don't count," she added laughing. "I
don't look my age, do I?"

The two men gave a gasp. The figures stunned them, but there was
another matter that was beyond their comprehension. It was Alan who
gave it expression. "How is it possible that at that age he was your
tutor in your studies, as you say, in surgery and engineering?"

"It is simple when you understand the mental powers of the man. By the
time he was fifteen he had gone through every course of science we
knew. For generations his brain had been developed. Perhaps"--she
turned quickly to Barry--"you have seen my brain, Richard, and your
own. Now I can give you an idea. His brain is comparatively more
developed over mine than mine is over yours. If you can realise that
you can realise what I mean. A mental effort that would wreck your
mind would pass his unnoticed."


Dick nodded. "I see," he chuckled. "It took me six years to go through
my medical course. I wonder how long it would have taken him? About a
month, I suppose."

Earani looked up. "Indeed, Dick, judging from your brain, you must
have worked very hard to do it in the time." The comment was made so
simply and was evidently so free from malice, that Dick joined Alan in
the shout of delight that followed it, and for the time being they
forgot their forebodings.

It was in this way that Alan and Barry obtained their first knowledge
of the past of the dead world, and the glimpse, slight as it was, only
whetted their appetite for more.

That evening, before they finally separated, the two men were
thoughtfully silent. It was only at the last moment that Dundas said,
"Dick, I don't like the idea of Andax. He seems a pretty large order
to let loose on the world."

Barry realised his friend's real reason for disliking the idea, but
passed it without comment. "I like it even less than you do, Alan, but
it's my opinion that our desires in the matter won't be considered.
Our only hope is to try and use our influence for the best. For the
rest it is on the lap of the gods. Good night," and he passed into the
night in an odour of petrol.




CHAPTER XX


"IF I tell you the history of the three statues you will have an
outline of the history of the race." Earani spoke in answer to a
question from Dundas. "Those three men left the greatest marks on its
development of all who ever lived, and each in an entirely different
way."

"Faith, Earani," said Barry, "from the look of the old gentleman in
the rags, I should say the race left some marks on him in return."

"We own it to our shame, Dick." They were standing in the great
vestibule before the sculptured group, and from where they stood the
face of the statue stared over their heads with its frozen expression
of misery and pride. The master hand that had wrought the stone had
given all but life to the figure, with its bowed shoulders, weighed
down with intolerable wrong and suffering. "Yes," Earani went on, "he
was judged and condemned as the greatest criminal our world had ever
produced." They turned together, and she led the way to the "temple,"
and there went on with her story.

"His name was Odi, and until he committed the deed that altered the
whole course of humanity he lived unknown as a poor schoolmaster. At
the time he lived (you must remember it was about three thousand years
before the great disaster) our world had advanced even then beyond
what yours is now in development. To a certain extent it was, however,
much as yours is today. We were far more advanced in art and science
than you are now. We had commenced as you did in ignorance,
pestilence, and war. We had been split into groups and nations with as
many languages. The groups and nations gradually coalesced, and with
them grew up a common language. War had practically ceased, and from
that cause and also from the advance of medical science the increase
of the population of the world came to be a serious factor in our
history for more reasons than one. The great problem, however, was the
problem of the coloured races. Mentally and in everything but physical
endurance they were beneath us. They could imitate, but not create.
They multiplied far more rapidly than we did, and, led by ambitious
men, they threatened to exterminate the white races by sheer force of
numbers. In some places, where the two races lived side by side, the
position became acute, and everywhere they demanded as a right an
equality they were unfitted for. Perhaps you know faintly what I
mean."

"We understand, Earani. The problem is not unknown to us," put in
Barry.

Earani nodded. "I have read of your problem, Dick, but it was as
nothing compared with the one the world had to face then and the one
Odi solved. There were at the time over three thousand millions of
people on the globe, of whom more than four-fifths were of the lower
race. They had all the benefits of our science, and were protected by
our laws, but as time went on the bitterness grew on both sides beyond
all endurance. They learned the power of numbers, and grew arrogant
and overbearing. In one place the mutual jealousy flashed up into a
short but fierce and bloody war, the first that had happened for over
two hundred years. It was a quarrel over territory; territory that
meant existence to one race or the other. That fight resulted in the
obliteration of a white outpost of over two million people. Strange as
it may seem, very few, except those in actual contact with the
coloured races, realised even then the danger to the white." Dundas
smiled a little, and interrupted. "I suppose, Earani, there were
plenty who preached the doctrine of uplifting the coloured races and
treating them as brothers?"

Earani nodded. "That was as it happened, Alan, mostly through the
teaching of the priest class; those not directly in contact with them
opposed reprisals. They talked evolution, education, and brotherly
love, and, I have no doubt, meant it. They argued that it would lower
them in their own eyes and in the eyes of the coloured people if they
inflicted punishment. 'Why plunge the world again into the crime of
war?' shouted the priest class. 'Example on our part will teach them
better.'

"But there was one man who read the signs aright. He was Odi, the
obscure schoolmaster, living on the fringe of the white nations. All
his life he had studied the question in silence. Then it fell out that
some of his inventions brought him enough wealth to enable him to live
at his ease, and he gave the whole of his time to research.

"It has never been finally decided whether his great discovery was the
result of accident or of deliberate experiments with the one object in
view. Practically everything he possessed was afterwards destroyed,
and his name and the secret of his power alone survived. The secret
was afterwards known as the 'Death Ray.'" Earani broke the thread of
her story. "What you know as electricity we knew more of then than you
would dream now."

"We know precious little about it, anyhow," said Barry.

She laughed and went on:--"That's an honest confession, Dick. There
are a few links missing in your chain that I can supply in good time.
But to return to the 'Death Ray.' I have often thought of that man,
with his terrible secret locked in his heart, and setting about his
work absolutely unmoved by the thought of the consequences of his
actions to himself or the millions of other lives it involved.

"The first knowledge the world had of his power was that an unknown and
appalling disease had broken out amongst the coloured races in the most
thickly populated part of the world. At first it started in one city,
and from that centre spread in an ever-widening stain. Almost from the
first it was noticed that the whites were absolutely immune. But that
this was from design never entered even remotely into the speculations
of the horde of workers who gathered to fight the plague. Remember that
when it once started the disease was no matter of months or weeks in
action. It was a question of days. The coloured people, old and young,
went down before it with appalling certainty. The unseen death missed
none. It swept through the country in an ever-widening wave, the course
of which could be marked in a clearly-defined line as it advanced. In
vain the whole world fought the growing terror. Every nerve was
strained, and every resource of science was used to the uttermost. Fight
as the scientists would, the death defeated them. There was not one
single instance where a person attacked recovered, and inside the line
of the advancing tide there was not one single instance of a coloured
person escaping or a white man being affected. I can only make you
understand the awful magnitude of the blow that fell by the records of
mortality. In the first eight weeks from the outbreak, over one hundred
and twenty millions had perished."

The two, who had been listening intently, looked incredulously at
Earani. "Why, Earani, apart from anything else, the disposal of such a
multitude of dead should be impossible, and delay must have meant an
epidemic through the world as bad as the disease that killed the
blacks," said Barry.

"That is so, Dick," she answered grimly. "The records of the time
showed how fully alive the people were to the danger. Indeed, they
left the coloured race in the end to fight for its own salvation in
order to cope with the new horror that threatened. Indeed, there were
a few small outbreaks, but the world was prepared, and beat them out
before they obtained any hold. You must remember, too, that our race
was better equipped to deal with such a crisis than yours is now.

"Then a strange thing happened. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the
plague stopped, and the world breathed in relief. It seemed as if the
danger had passed. There was a month of respite, and then, to the
horror of all, it commenced again with redoubled violence in a new
quarter. This time in the heart of the territory of the coloured
races. What had gone before was as nothing to the fresh outbreak. It
swept everything before it, but in the densely-populated districts it
killed more swiftly, and spread more widely than formerly. Even now it
is difficult to think of that time without a shudder. Five times it
ceased and broke out again, and towards the end the word ran through
the coloured races that the whites were exterminating them. No vows of
innocence, no attempts to reassure the terror-racked multitude, were
of any avail, and the horror was added to by a bloody internecine
upheaval, in which the doomed race fell as swiftly before the arms of
the whites as before the destroying disease.

"The sixteen months that the terror lasted are on record as the most
awful period in our history, and when they were passed the coloured
races had ceased to exist. Out of two thousand millions, not half a
million were left scattered amongst the extreme northern and southern
parts of the world, where the disease had not penetrated."

"Good heavens, Earani!" exclaimed Alan. "Do you mean to tell us that
this appalling thing was the work of the man Odi?"

"Just so, Alan; his work alone, and even in the end his part might
have gone undiscovered but for the determination of a few scientists
to probe the matter to the bottom."

"Several remarkable features were recorded apart from the disease
itself. In each instance the disease started from a common centre and
spread rapidly outwards. When the records were made up it was noticed
that in charts of the affected countries its boundaries were a clearly
defined circle, except in the later outbreaks where the edges of the
circles were broken by already ravaged country. Then again, it was
noticed that the intervals between the outbreaks were subject to some
regularity. It was by summing up slight details that the investigators
came to the conclusion that the intervals would just permit of the
perpetuator of the tragedy moving from centre to centre. Even then it
seemed a far-fetched hypothesis to assume deliberate human action.
Gradually, however, the evidence piled up, and the question became
from 'Was it the work of a man?' to 'Who is he?'

"Then Odi spoke up. Openly and fearlessly he announced himself the
perpetrator of the deed. Even then the world was incredulous, but in
the end there was no room for doubt. He proved to the astonished
investigators beyond all chance of contradiction the means he had
used. He had discovered an electrical ray that passed the white skin,
and only acted through the pigmented skin of the coloured people.
After only a short exposure to its influence, a general paralysis of
the nervous system set in, and death ensued in from twenty-four to
thirty-six hours. The gradual spreading of the havoc from its centre
was caused by a proportionate weakness, according to the distance from
the power itself. When he had exterminated all within reach, he simply
moved his plant to another site and repeated the process. You see the
ray was silent and invisible, and passed through all natural obstacles
as if they had been non-existent. It did its work swiftly, silently
and undetected."

Earani paused in her story, and Barry broke in: "That was a hellish
deed, an infamous act, and yet you say that your people honoured him
as a benefactor. Earani, they could not do it."

The woman smiled her soft, slow, unemotional smile, looking at Barry
as an elder would look at an angry child. "Not at first Dick. No, they
did not honour him. They looked on Odi's deed in the same light as you
do now. That is, when they had time. At first they were too busy
seizing the vast vacant territories. The few great national
confederations were on the verge of flying at one another's throats to
see which could seize the most, until they realised that there was
plenty even for their voracious desires."

"But Odi!" asked Alan. "What became of him?"

"The fate of the daring reformer," she answered. "What else? From one
end of the world to the other the priest class raised the outcry
against him. We had ceased to punish crime. We cursed the criminal. He
was outcast and branded. The very children baited him in the street.
He was shunned, excommunicated in the true sense of the word. His
goods were declared forfeit. His name was held up as one accursed. At
first he answered his accusers boldly and justified his deed on the
ground of the good of humanity. He pointed out that the confederations
where the priest caste held the greatest power were those that had
benefited most largely already, and in time to come would benefit
more. Aye! it was true, but none the less they howled him down--spat
upon him. In spite of all they did he held his head high. Poverty and
outrage were his lot until the end, but they did not break his
spirit."

"And the end?" asked Barry.

"A fitting one for the stormy life. One day he penetrated to a
gathering of the priest class and their followers, and there he stood
before them and spoke his mind to them. Aye! but it was a speech. Some
day I will read it to you; we have it word for word in our archives,
an inspired prophecy, and when he had spoken the children of the peace
took the apostle of death and stoned him before their temple. That
statue in the vestibule was wrought from the only picture we had of
him, and that was taken as he spoke his last words.

"Look, my friends, even as he had said, it happened. After about two
hundred years here and there arose an apologist. The world was
infinitely more prosperous and infinitely more peaceful. The locked-up
treasures of Nature that had gone to nourish the unfit were directed
into proper channels. There was room to breathe in what had been an
overburdened world, and the world knew and recognised it. At first
shamefacedly, and then openly and honestly it was acknowledged that
the deed of Odi was the salvation of the civilised races."

Barry rose to his feet and commenced to pace slowly to and fro. The
uneasiness in his mind had taken definite shape during the story. "It
may be as you say, Earani," he said, "but to my mind the means could
never justify the end--no matter if the result were all you say, and
more. The crime would be unpardonable."

Earani watched him quietly with her elbow on the arm of the chair and
her chin cupped in her palm. Looking at Barry she spoke to Dundas.
"Alan, tell Dick what you do with weeds that grow up amongst your
vines--the weeds that draw the nourishment from the soil, that would
undo the work of your hands, and cramp the development of the fruit.
What do you do with them, Alan?"

"Plough them under," said Alan briefly.

"Just so, plough them under," repeated Earani. "Dick, has your world
not yet recognised that there are weeds of humanity as well as of
vegetation?"

"That is no parallel, Earani. I say it was a crime--a hideous crime.
There is no more justification for it than there would be for killing
a man to steal his money. The fact that it was done on a colossal
scale only makes it so many million times worse."

"You can find no palliation?" Her statuesque calm was a strange
contrast to Barry's agitation.

"None. It is unthinkable."

Still unmoved, Earani said quietly, "Tell me, Dick, this country of
yours you are so proud of--who owned it before your people came here,
if I remember rightly, not much more than a hundred years ago?"

Barry stopped abruptly in his restless pacing as though the question
had petrified him. Earani sat upright, and pointing an accusing finger
at him. "Answer me honestly, Dick. Have you ever once in your life
given a single thought of remorse for the thousands of helpless, if
useless, aborigines that were exterminated by the ruthless white
invasion? Yet can you honestly declare that you think they should have
been left in undisturbed possession? Morally, your fathers and you are
on the same plane with Odi."

Barry threw back his head and answered defiantly, "Again, Earani, the
parallel is not just. In this case it was the survival of the
fittest."

"Sophistry, Dick, sophistry. The 'Death Ray,' or rum and disease--aye!
or firearms--what difference? The result is the same. Your people are
in undisturbed possession of their land, and they are exterminated.
Read your own world's histories. Your international morals are the
morals of the jungle. Brute strength and nothing but brute strength,
spells safety. Alan, what do you say?"

"'Pon my word," said Dundas, who had listened half-amused and
half-serious, "I don't think we in Australia can throw any stones at
Odi, neither can anyone in North America, for that matter. The fact that
the people of the United States imported a worse problem doesn't affect
the fact that they settled their first one a la Odi, although they were
more gradual about it."

"Do you support the theory of the 'Death Ray,' Dun?" asked Barry,
perturbed by Alan's defection.

Dundas drove his hands deep into his pockets and leaned back in his
chair. "Dick, honest Injun! I feel that the world would be better and
cleaner if some of its races were to become extinct Take, for
instance, the gentle Turk. I'll say this, that if I knew of an
impending catastrophe that would wipe the whole of that race off the
face of the earth, and could prevent it, I wouldn't."

"You mean you think you wouldn't," put in Barry, "whereas if it came
to the point you would probably do it if it cost you your life."

"I'll be hanged if I would, Dick. No, I mean it absolutely. I would
think no more of it than you would of cutting into a malignant growth.
You talk of parallels. Well, the Turk is a cancer on humanity, and
nothing else. He would have been wiped out fifty years ago if the big
nations were not afraid of one another."

Here Earani interrupted. "Can you tell me the present proportion of
black to white, Dick?"

Barry shrugged his shoulders. "Afraid I can't," and he looked
inquiringly at Alan.

Dundas rose from his chair. "I can't say, but I expect 'Whittaker'
can. I had to get a copy to satisfy Earani's appetite for facts and
figures." He took a volume from a casket and turned its pages rapidly.
"Humph--here we are!" Then with his pencil he jotted figures on the
margin of the page. "Here's what I make of it. Total estimate of human
races--One thousand six hundred millions approximately. Caucasian, six
hundred and fifty millions, leaving a balance of about nine hundred
and fifty millions coloured. Roughly five to three against the
whites."

Earani looked up. "You see, Dick, even now it is five to three, and
the odds will go on increasing."

Barry looked at her in dismay. "Earani, for God's sake, say what is in
your mind."

She answered calmly. "Nothing as yet, Dick--but think--were Odi's deed
to be done again, would it better be done now or when those numbers
were double, and when you think, remember too, Dick, there is no place
in the world for the unfit."

Barry shook his head. "My profession is saving life, not destroying
it. Are there none amongst the whites who are unfit? If you follow
your theory to its conclusion where does it stop?"

"We found the means to eradicate the unfit, even amongst the white
races," came the answer serenely. "But it took a man who could stamp
his will on the world before it could be done. Dick, your ideas strike
me as being absurd. You would hold in honour as the greatest of your
citizens a soldier who would lead his countrymen to kill another
people by hundreds of thousands and send as many of his own to their
death, merely on account of an international squabble, right or wrong.
He is a hero. A national demigod almost. But is he any better than
Odi, or any different from him, who dared to save a civilisation? To
my mind Odi is the better man. He had a reason for his 'Death Ray.' As
often as not your soldier is wrong in the cause he fights for. Even
putting the best construction on his deeds he frees the world of an
overburdening population, only the worst of it is that the finest type
of man is killed in warfare, and the weeds are left to breed. Pity you
couldn't form your armies of the unfit."

"Earani, I don't surrender I merely won't argue with you any more,"
and Barry sat down, pursing his lips sourly.

The woman walked to his side, and laid her hand lightly on his
shoulder. "Wise boy, Dick," she said gently. "Come, I must put you in a
better humor. Why should we quarrel because millions of years ago some
people died? Listen to this and forget your worries." She moved to the
keyboard, and a moment later a burst of heavenly music throbbed
through the great gallery. It held the listening group spell-bound
while it lasted, and when the last grand notes had echoed away there
were tears in the eyes of the two men. There was a long silence, as
though no one cared to break the spell, until Earani spoke. "That was
one of our greatest choirs and the work of one of our master
musicians. Tell me, Dick, was the price we paid for that, and all it
means, too great? That is but an infinitesimal part of what we owe
Odi?"

Barry made no answer, but rose to leave, and at a gesture from Earani,
Alan followed his example. When they walked from the shed to the
homestead that evening Dick spoke very soberly. "Dun, God send we have
not done an evil thing for the world. If I could read her mind my own
might be easier."

"I don't think we have cause to worry, Dick, though I'll admit she looks
at things from a different point of view. Earani would be influenced by
us in her actions."

"I'm not thinking so much of Earani as of that cold-blooded devil in
the Himalayas. How far is he likely to be influenced by us?"

"Sufficient to the day--let us hope that Andax can't be found. It
seems a pretty tall order to me."

Barry shook his head. "Dun, if Earani says she can do a thing, she can
do it, and I'm perfectly certain that she can and will resurrect that
damned friend of her youth, and, what's more, we can't stop her."




CHAPTER XXI


IF Alan Dundas had forgotten his world, his world had by no means
forgotten him. A man in a comparatively small community cannot
entirely disappear from it without exciting comment. In the club at
Glen Cairn men talked, and asked questions that were not answered.
Over afternoon teacups tongues wagged and heads nodded. Hector Bryce
was uneasy, but kept his thoughts to himself, even from Mistress
Doris. A girl who went amongst her friends giving no sign carried a
sore and sad heart with her. Why, she thought, was Alan behaving so
queerly? Before that night when they had looked into one another's
eyes in the moment of danger no week passed that did not bring its
meeting. Since then he had gone out of her life. Why? Why? Why? The
question racked her day and night. True to him even in her thoughts,
she would not believe that the man who had held her hand that night,
and spoken her name so, had done it lightly and then ridden away. She
felt that it was no small thing that had come between them, but she
felt she could only wait until he gave a sign. That he would come to
her again she would not let herself doubt.

Rickardson, who was wasting High Court abilities in a country town,
sat in the club and smoked placidly. To him entered George MacArthur.
Rickardson gave no greeting to the newcomer beyond pushing a chair
over to him with his foot. MacArthur pressed the bell, and while the
steward brought the necessary bottles he stared gloomily at the fire,
while Rickardson stared at him. The steward departed. MacArthur sipped
the whisky, and turned abruptly to his friend. "I'm damned if I know
what to make of it!" Then he turned back to the fire again.

Rickardson took his pipe out of his mouth and spoke. "You went out
there, George?"

"Yes," absently, "I went out." There was a long silence. Then he went
on. "This is just between ourselves, Rick. He hasn't pruned a single
vine, much less put a plough onto the place. The house was open, and
the dogcart was in the shed. Billy B.B. was in the paddock, and I'm
ready to swear that Dundas was about the place somewhere. I raised no
end of a row, but that was all I did raise. Never saw a vestige of
him. Now what the deuce does it mean?"

Rickardson tapped the ashes from his pipe into his hand, and uttered
one brief word, "Skirt."

MacArthur snorted. "Skirt! Rot! You're one-eyed on that idea, Rick. I
hate this damned gossiping, and you're about the only one I'd open out
to about Dun. But I've a pretty fair idea that Mrs. Bryce was working
Dun for Miss Seymour, and Dun wasn't unwilling. Now, I know he hasn't
been near Seymour's for months. I got that from Seymour himself. Now
who else could there be? McCarthy's women are the nearest to him, two
miles away, and I'd stake my life Dun isn't one of that sort. He's got
some pretty highfalutin' notions about women."

"Did you try, Barry?" asked the lawyer presently.

"Humph! I did!" answered the other with a chuckle. "You know Dick. He
told me nothing, with strictly professional politeness. Got nothing
there, though the wily old beggar knows things, I'll swear. I didn't
want to risk being told to mind my own dashed business. What about
Bryce?"

"Bryce knows about as much as we do. That yarn about the study was all
tosh. He was trying to pump me the other day, so I bluffed I was in
the know, and said Dun was doing well. I expect he is, or Barry would
come to light with something."

"Well," said MacArthur, in the end, "I suppose if Dun wanted to let us
in he would, so we had better sit tight. Only I hate to think that he
was in a hole and we were not on hand to help."

"Same here," replied Rickardson. "But, Mac, I'm prepared to bet a
cigar to a brick house that when it comes out 'it' will be a woman of
sorts."

Barry was neither blind nor deaf to what was going on. That
'Cootamundra,' usually one of the best-worked properties in the
district, had been left to its own devices was a matter of small
moment to Alan, he knew. He realised that, as things stood, Alan's
future was elsewhere. But until he would be able to come into the open
and show his hand, his present unusual existence was at least open to
comment. To leave a valuable vineyard unpruned and unploughed to the
end of August was inviting comment on his sobriety or his sanity.
MacArthur was not the only one who had noticed. So Barry took counsel
with himself, and one evening, as they sat smoking before his
departure, he broke into his friend's reverie: "Dun, when were you in
Glen Cairn last?"

Alan came to himself with a start. "Blessed if I know, Dick. It's so
long ago that I've almost forgotten. Eight or ten weeks. Storekeeper
sends out everything I want--no need to go in. Think of piffling about
at the club or anywhere else, when there is what you and I know here."

"Just so, Dun. I know why you are lying low, but others don't. People
are talking."

Alan looked across at his friend in mild surprise. "Talking? How? What
are they saying?"

"Nothing to me. They know better. But think how it looks, Dun. You
were not an inconspicuous figure in our little crowd. Suddenly, and
without any apparent cause, you disappear. People know you are still
here. They know that there has not been a stroke of work done on the
place since vintage. Then they know I'm here a good deal. Think how it
looks from the outside."

Alan frowned thoughtfully. "Come to think of it, it must start them
guessing a bit." He stood up and took a note from his mantelpiece and
handed it to Barry. "I found that pinned to the door the other day."

This is what Dick read pencilled on a leaf torn from a pocket-book:--
"Dear Dun,--Is it wine or woman? Rickardson and I are desolate. Where
the devil and why the devil are you hiding? Come back, and all will be
forgiven.--G. MacArthur."

Barry smiled as he read. "He tried to pump me a little while ago. I
was sorry to turn him down, because he really seemed concerned."

"Good sort, old Mac. Anyhow, what am I to do?"

"Better show up a little, I think. It won't do any harm."

Dundas filled his pipe thoughtfully before he spoke. "To tell the
truth, Dick, I'm rather afraid to leave. Suppose any one came along
while I was away?" Then, after a pause: "There is something I haven't
told you about. Not that there was any need to keep quite about it.
Earani has been up here."

"Great Scott! When?" said Barry, sitting up.

"Two nights ago, and again last night. I suppose--well, to tell the
truth, although I was very keen on having her up here at first,
latterly I've tried to put her off. You see Dick, after coming from
the galleries and her surroundings, this place looks pretty mean, and
I thought she might not understand. I needn't have worried, and I
ought to have known that she would be better than that sort of thing.
She took my quarters as a matter of course, and with her usual
practical curiosity. She was rather struck on my little shanty. I was
foolish enough to try to explain." He paused and smiled reminiscently.

"What's the joke, Dun?"

"Well, she fired a lost world proverb into me and shut me up. Here it
is: 'A man judged justly is judged naked,' and, Dick, my boy, I've
heard a good many proverbs with less truth in them."

"By Jove, Dun, I wish I had been here. Did you expect her?"

"No; that is not the least interesting part of it. Tell you what. I've
a suspicion, without a single bit of evidence to support it, that the
night before last was not her first appearance."

"What happened?" Dick was all interest.

"Well, it was about ten. I've lost touch with my books lately, and I
came out to have a wander round before turning in. It settles me down a
bit. It was a stunning night, you remember. Bright moonlight. I'd been
across the paddocks to the river, and when I came back to the house she
was standing just between it and the shed." He paused and went on
thoughtfully. "I couldn't believe my eyes until she hailed me. Dick, you
should have seen her standing there in the moonlight, bare-headed, and
with her white gown clinging round her. Visions! I thought at first it
couldn't be real. She was as jolly as a school girl at having caught me
on the hop. Nothing would satisfy her but to see how I live. So I damned
conventions, and she came in here. Now what do you think she did first?"

Barry shook his head. "You can search me, Dun. Nothing usual, I'll
swear.

"Well, she took one glance round the room, and her eyes lighted on my
picture of Napoleon up there," and he waved his pipe in the direction
of Delaroche's immortal portrait. "Then she went over to it as if
pulled by a magnet. When she turned back her eyes were fairly
flashing. She caught me by the arm, and, by Jove! I had never before
seen her show so much emotion. 'Alan, Alan, tell me! Does he live?
What is he? How is he named? He is the man I want. Tell me! Tell me!'
By Jove, Dick, she was disappointed when I told her he had gone nearly
one hundred years. 'Ah, I have come one hundred years too late, Alan.
Nature breeds his kind once in a thousand years, and I have missed
him. With me to plan and with him to do my bidding--aye, and he would
have done it--my task here would have been very easy.' Queer, wasn't
it?"

"Not very, when you come to think of it. Still, it's just as well
Napoleon is under the marble at the Invalides. I don't like to think
of those two running the universe. I'll admit, though, that their
proceedings would probably be a cure for ennui. At the same time," he
went on, "I think that Earani and Napoleon combination would be better
than the prospective Earani and Andax partnership. Dun, the more I
think of it the less I like it. Has it ever occurred to you that we
might do worse than hand the matter over to the authorities?"

Barry spoke hesitatingly, and half-expected an outburst from Dundas.
Instead, however, Alan smoked on for some time before answering.
"Dick, it's no use. I've reasoned the whole thing out. I won't hear of
it. For one thing, we have passed our word to Earani, and nothing will
induce me to break it. She trusts me absolutely, and I'm going to be
worth that confidence. Apart from that, however, whom are we to
inform? State or Federal Government? Think of letting a crowd of
politicians in. The crowd who are in office now, for instance. The
damned fools would appoint a Royal Commission to deal with the matter.
Where would I stand with the place overrun with a horde of infernal
carpet-baggers and newspaper men? Or think of Earani being gushed over
by a mob of confounded society women. No! I will not hear of it. There
is only one who has a right to say, and that one is Earani herself."
Dick shrugged his shoulders. "As you please, Dun. You have the right
to decide. I'll not refer to it again. You say you had another visit
last night."

Dundas smiled. "Aye, Dick. We walked down to the river. It must seem
strange to her. When Earnani last saw this place it was a plateau,
with a river running round its edge south to the sea through hilly
country. Now the river runs north, and so far as I can make out, her
river must have followed the alluvial lead where the Golden Edge group
of mines is working. Think, Dick, the bed of her river is eighteen
hundred feet below the surface of the ground, and the hilly country is
a level plain. Then again, where the great sphere is buried now it
stood over six hundred feet above the surface then She tells me that
it is set in a solid cube of its own material over a thousand feet
each way. Jove! But it must have been a pretty conspicuous object in
the landscape in those days."

Barry nodded. "No wonder she was surprised in that first interview
when you told her you didn't know that her residence was a sphere.
What else?"

"Oh! nothing much," was the somewhat evasive reply, and Barry, wise in
his generation, forebore to press the question, but turned again to
his former proposition. "Anyhow, Dun, I don't think there would be
much risk in your taking a day off and showing up at the club. I don't
think anything would be likely to happen to Earani."

"Quite so. I'm sure there would be no danger for Earani. But I'm not
so sure about the safety of the intruder, or at any rate of the effect
Earani might have on a visitor. Suppose, for instance, John Harvey
Pook turned up while I was away. You can imagine the trend of
thoughts. Then, again, suppose a swaggie put in an appearance, and
turned nasty, finding he had only a woman to deal with?"

"Well," replied Barry, "I'd back Earani to take care of herself."

"Right, but I don't fancy having to explain away a dead swaggie.
Between ourselves, Dick, Earani has on occasion hinted at the value of
a certain kind of human life as being less than nothing. I've
explained our present-day view of the matter pretty clearly, but all
the same, I think she looks on our regard for the sanctity of human
life as a weak kind of sentimentalism."

Barry nodded. "It would be rather awkward. Still, you can tell her you
wish to go to town, and ask her not to show up during your absence.
However, I don't want to push in my oar, Dun, only I thought I'd let
you know how the wind is blowing."

Alan thought the matter over long after Barry had left him. He paced
the drive before the house in the hope that he would gain inspiration
from a visit from his Lady of Dreams, but though he waited long his
hopes were unrewarded.

However, next day Dundas told Earani that there were reasons why he
should leave her to herself occasionally, so that he might attend to
his affairs away from the vineyard. Whereat she showed such sweet
contrition at what she called her selfishness in keeping him so much
with her, that Alan felt inclined to refuse to take the liberty she
offered so freely and fully. He told her of his fears of intruders,
and she smilingly promised not to face the light of day during his
absence unless with his permission. Indeed, it was her own suggestion
that he should lock the shed door while he would be away.

So next day Billy was requisitioned, none the more tractable from his
long holiday, to take the dogcart and the dogcart's owner to Glen
Cairn. Alan greeted those whom he met with the casual greeting of
every day, as though a three or four month's absence were a matter
not worthy of comment. He dropped in on Rickardson at his office, and
badgered the lawyer into breaking his own rules, and strolling down to
the club. There they flushed MacArthur from a couch, where he was
taking forty winks. MacArthur, taking his cue from Rickardson asked no
questions, too pleased to see Dundas come to light to care about
causes. They told him of Mac's latest war with John Harvey Pook. Pook
had indiscreetly made an unmistakable reference to MacArthur from the
pulpit. The town hummed with joy. Mac waited his time, and Pook gave
him the chance. The vicar, puffed up with earthly pride, had attached
a brass nameplate to his gate, bearing the legend "The Gums," as if
the whole town did not know the vicarage. Then Mac stepped in, and
bought the adjoining house, without a word to anyone. A week later on
the gate adjoining that of the vicarage appeared an identical brass
plate bearing the legend "The Teeth." John Harvey Pook hauled down his
colours and his plate, and the town hummed again.

Afterwards Alan and MacArthur played a hundred up, and Rickardson
criticised cheerfully and caustically, and the two players retaliated
by charging the table up to his account. Then, as the afternoon was
closing, they strolled across to the tennis courts, where Alan was
promptly captured by Doris Bryce, and carefully placed on the feminine
rack. Doris flattered herself she was wily and diplomatic, and she
probed scientifically for information. Alan flattered himself he was
more wily and more diplomatic. The result of the contest was somewhat
of a draw. Doris obtained nothing that could satisfy her curiosity,
but Alan found himself cornered, so that he was obliged to promise to
play in a tournament on the following Saturday. He would gladly have
avoided the engagement, but it would have taken a more clever man than
he to do it gracefully. Doris was a little nettled at her failure to
solve the mystery of Alan's disappearance, and promised herself to
deal more fully with her victim at her leisure. She felt he owed an
explanation to herself in the first place, and also to Marian Seymour.
Moreover, she determined that Alan should be picked to play with
Marian in the tournament, and that both should spend the evening at
the bank afterwards. Who was this man, Alan Dundas, that he should
turn aside from the eminently desirable fate that she had in store for
him?

MacArthur had sat listening with mischievous amusement to the verbal
duel between the two, and had, with malice aforethought, given
deliberate assistance to Mistress Doris in cornering Alan for the
tournament. Inwardly Alan called him anything but blessed, and finally
resigned himself to what he now regarded as a wasted afternoon, for
all time that was not spent in the society of Earani he looked upon as
so long unlived. He had grudged his present visit to Glen Cairn, and
more so he grudged the prospective one. In the end he hailed with
pleasure the advent of Barry, who passed on his way from the hospital,
and gave Dundas the excuse for taking his leave.

As the two men strolled away from the courts, Alan turned to Barry.
"Dick, what's happened? You look elated about something."

"Lord forgive me, Alan, but I ought to look jolly well ashamed of
myself, and I'm not. I've been guilty of rank professional misconduct.
I've risked an act of manslaughter, morally at any rate, and I've got
Walton into a condition of mental collapse. The worst of it is that I
couldn't confess to Walton even if I were allowed to."

"Pretty good record for one day, Dicky. How did you do it all?"

"Well, you remember the yabber I had with Earani yesterday afternoon?"

"I remember you were discussing some of your usual objectionable
subjects with her. The details were beyond me."

"Humph! Well, I discussed that particular subject because we had a
case in the hospital. Characteristic and very clearly defined.
Absolutely hopeless--at least, I said so, and I never heard of its
yielding to treatment."

Alan laughed. "I remember that part of it, and Earani's mild
contradiction of your statement. I got lost afterwards in the blaze of
verbal fireworks that you both exhibited."

"Dun, do you notice that when she has absolutely pulverised one in an
argument, Earani doesn't gloat? It's a most unfeminine characteristic."

Alan nodded. "I never argue with her now on matters of fact; it's no
use; she is always right. What about your hopeless case?"

"Just this. She gave me a fluid of some sort, and told me to inject
it, and guaranteed that so long as the patient were not dead, her
treatment would wipe out the disease in six hours. She holds that
where the organs are not actually destroyed no disease should be
fatal."

"Well?"

"Just this, Dun; and this is where the professional misconduct comes
in. The woman is Walton's patient. I slipped into the hospital this
morning. Got the nurse out of the way and injected the stuff.
Remember, I've not the faintest idea what it was I used, so if she had
died I would have been morally guilty of her death. Though, mind you,
Dun, she was moribund when I did it, and to all appearances had about
two or three hours to live. Still, there would be the devil of a row
if it were known.

"When I came in this evening I found Walton half off his head with
bewilderment. The woman took a turn about ten, and Jove! when I left
her half an hour ago, although she was weak and very low with what
she'd been through, there was absolutely no indication of the disease.
Walton doesn't know whether we were wrong in our diagnosis (and I'm
absolutely sure we were not), or whether he has performed a miracle.
He's anxious to report the case, and yet he's afraid to. You see, if
he reports a cure he won't be believed, or he'll be asked to do it
again, or, what is more likely, they'll say he is mistaken in his
facts."

Alan chuckled. "Hard luck for Walton. Still, judging by results only,
I don't think you have anything to fret about."

They had stopped at Barry's gate, and Alan refused his friend's
invitation to go in. "Just as you say, Dun, I'm not fretting, and I
ought to be. Tell that worker of miracles I'll be out to-morrow to see
her. I've several thousand questions to ask her. I'm glad you have
been seen in public again. Till to-morrow!" and Alan turned away to
the club, where he picked up Billy B.B. and sped homeward, feeling
satisfied that he had temporarily suppressed the current gossip.




CHAPTER XXII


"SO the woman lives," said Earani. "There is no miracle about it,
Dick. There are many things in your daily life that would have been
miracles one hundred years ago that you pass over now without a second
thought."

"I doubt if I could get Walton to look at it in that light. He almost
feels that the woman has shown an indecent contempt for medical
practice in recovering."

"You have not told him?" asked Alan.

"Hardly," replied Barry, with a laugh. "I haven't the nerve. The first
question he would ask would be what drug I had used. I'd reply that I
hadn't the faintest idea. Of course, he'd feel convinced then that I
am a genius. He'd tell me so, too. No, Dun, when I tell Walton
anything about it, I'll want to be able to tell him a good deal more
than that."

"You are on the verge of many things now, Dick, but you could not go
forward much further without the aid of Maxi's lens. Our race came to
the same wall that stopped them until Maxi broke it down," said
Earani.

"Then Maxi was the second of your great men?" asked Alan.

"Yes, and to my mind the greatest of the three. He spent his life on
the one work and succeeded. They thought him mad at first. He knew
that every living organism gave out light rays that the human eye
cannot see. His lens is really an artificial eye that can detect these
rays and convey them to the brain direct. He was originally attempting
to invent a substitute for the natural eye in cases where it had been
destroyed, when he first gathered the threads that he followed through
all their windings until the great work was completed. It took him
twenty-five years of uninterrupted labour, and what a labour it was!
He faced the years of failure without flinching. He could make no
converts to his hopes and his idea. On every side there was ridicule
and derision, and against it all he never once faltered. Absolutely
alone, and without the help of one friendly hand, he won through. His
recognition came in his lifetime, and he bore his triumph as simply as
he had borne his reverses. He put aside with a smile all the honours
they offered him. 'You can give nothing I desire now but rest, and my
work has won that for me,' was his answer when they asked him to name
his own reward."

"He had no need of a monument, Earani," interrupted Barry.

She shook her head. "Not while his work lives. Think of the results. The
average life of mankind at the time of Maxi's invention was about
forty-eight years! Within two hundred years the average was well over
one hundred years, and later it rose to one hundred and twenty with a
maximum of one hundred and sixty. You must understand, too, that a man
of one hundred years was not a tottering wreck of humanity, but a being
as mentally and physically robust as one of forty in the pre-Maxi days,
and many up to one hundred and fifty years retained their faculties to
the full, and every step that led to this revolution was solely due to
Maxi's lens. Without it even the work of Eukary would have been
impossible."

"Ah!" interjected Barry, "and Eukary was the third person of your
trinity?"

Earani nodded. "He came two hundred years after the old Doctor, and
was one of the worshippers of his memory." She turned to Alan. "He was
one of those that nature gives to the world once in a thousand years,
like your Napoleon. He rose from the ranks, and for fifty years he
ruled the world with a rod of steel. It was not a nation or a
confederation that he ruled, but the entire world. He ruled ruthlessly
and mercilessly, and when he died he left us a new world and a new
religion."

"A new religion is a doubtful sort of legacy," said Alan with a smile.

Barry straightened up. "That's a fact from our point of view, Earani.
Every religion that our world has been given so far has been as fatal
from a point of mortality as a new disease. You see the converts as a
rule have felt it incumbent on them to spread the glad tidings, even
if they had to do it with an axe. The unbeliever had to love his
enlightener, even if he had to be hammered into doing it. As a
consequence, religions generally meant new causes for war, so they
have been pretty fatal, taking them all round."

"There's nothing like the hatred that a really bigoted religious
fanatic can raise for a rival creed," put in Alan.

"Perhaps Eukary's religion was an exception?" asked Barry.

"He met the usual reward of the reformer," she smiled. "Hate and spite
and intrigue--but he was too great to feel or fear them, aye, or to
notice them, except where they interfered with his plans."

"And then?" asked Alan.

"And then he struck once--there was never need for a second blow, and
he never gave warning. He knew he was right, and he would not let one
life or a thousand stand in the way of the future of the race. He
taught us the worship of the unborn.

"He started from the theory that if infinite care in breeding be
necessary in producing the highest class of animal or vegetable life,
then it is so much the more necessary in producing the highest type of
human life. We know that a weed can be cultivated until it becomes a
splendid flower and that if neglected it will ultimately revert to its
original worthless type. We know that the finest class of domestic
animals are those that result from careful breeding. And humanity,
Dick?" she paused.

"Left to carry on anyhow. It's a tremendous handicap. Reproducing at
our own sweet will in the sacred cause of individual liberty, and to
the detriment of the race. It's a wonder we have ever pulled through
so far, or so well. It can't be helped, anyhow," was Barry's comment.

"It can be altered!" answered Earani decisively. "It has been once in
the world's history. Eukary made no move until he had absolutely
proved what was afterwards known as Eukary's Law of Transmission. When
he propounded that law the world stopped sufficiently long in its work
to find that it had discovered a new joke, and when the joke grew
stale, both it and he were forgotten. The jesters would not have been
so lighthearted had they known their man a little better."

"Curious, is it not?" said Alan, "when you think of it, how some--in
fact, nearly all--of the men who have radically affected the world
have been considered a subject for a jest in the beginning."

Earani smiled. "I suppose if you could trace the intimate history of
the times there were many who jested at Mahomet, Caesar, Napoleon--
aye, or perhaps even of your Divine Prophet. It has always been so,
and will always be so while fools are born into the world."

"Consider the majority they are, Earani," said Barry with a laugh.

Earani nodded. "We had our share, Dick, but Eukary lowered the
average."

Alan made an extravagant gesture of supplication. "Oh! Great Queen,
grant us, we implore you, the formula, for never a world of all the
worlds needed the boon so much as ours."

"You might demonstrate on us," Barry began.

"Dick, if you are offering me up as a subject, I'll regard it as an
unfriendly action, as the diplomats say," broke in Alan.

"Profound self-consciousness, Alan," said Barry, with a laugh. "Let's
hear the rest, Earani, and we'll find a subject afterwards."

"The work was not done in a day," said Earani, laughing at their
nonsense; "and for thirty years the world at large heard nothing of
Eukary. During that thirty years he worked silently at his tremendous
plan. It seems incredible now that what was afterwards known as the
'Great Conspiracy' could be formed in secret, but it was so. I can
give you no clearer idea of his character than that he could enrol
hundreds of thousands of followers under his banner in a plot to place
the control of the world in one man's hands, and do it undetected."

"A secret society," said Alan.

Earani nodded. "Exactly, and its members embraced every race and every
creed in the world without a single traitor."

"He could not have known them all," said Barry.

"Naturally not," replied Earani; "but that is where the wonderful
system and organisation came in. He had a faultless judgment of men in
the first place, and selected his immediate followers without making a
single error. Then again he had that quality of leadership that turns
followers into worshippers.

"When the final blow was struck which made Eukary the master of the
world, you must understand that conditions of life were different from
those you know at present. War had ceased, and with it the necessity
for armaments. By international agreement no weapon of offence might
be improved, and the small armed force kept by each confederation had
become merely an adjunct of State ceremonial. Amongst the conspirators
were the greatest brains of the age, and these invented a weapon that
made the movement irresistible."

"It must have been a fairly easy victory, Earani," interrupted Barry;
"the resistance could not have been much against such an
organisation."

"It was at first. People were too stunned by the blow to offer
resistance. It was when they had had time to think that the trouble
came. However, Eukary struck, and between the setting of one sun and
the rising of another the old order had passed away. So perfectly were
the plans laid that in one night the governing bodies of every
confederation were removed, and a new administration was substituted."

"Without resistance at all?" asked Barry.

Earani shrugged her shoulders. "Eukary was not a man to allow
sentiment to interfere with his plans, and the small regular armed
forces might have been used as a nucleus for organised resistance, and
so he made such a step impossible. They were exterminated to the last
man."

"Eukary seems to have taken Odi for a model," said Dick.

"Possibly," answered Earani, without heeding the tinge of sarcasm in
Barry's voice. "His methods never lacked decision, and he was not the
man to risk failure through fear of public opinion. However, what you
take exception to was nothing to what followed. The success of the
revolution was absolute from the beginning. When people came down to
their cities on the first day (they still lived in cities at that
time) nothing was changed, except that they found proclamations
notifying them that their government would be carried on as before,
except that all existing and future laws would be subject to revision
by a central council, of which Eukary would be the president.

"Eukary was not slow to use his advantage. First he dealt with all
public men outside the organisation. They had the position fully
explained to them, and were given the option of giving their
allegiance without being told the alternative. Many fell in with the
plan gladly. Others, for conscientious reasons, refused. Can you guess
what happened to them, Dick?" said Earani, with her slow smile,
turning to Barry.

"Placed under restraint, I suppose," answered Barry.

"Think, Dick. Under restraint they would always be a menace, and a
centre of disaffection, and certainly a centre of antagonism. Eukary's
method was kinder in the long run. He had a maxim, 'Where there is no
head there can be no body,' and so he took care there would be no
head," she concluded grimly.

"From the first day I saw his statue," said Alan, "I concluded that he
was a gentleman who knew his own mind. He certainly was thorough."

"It cleared the way," answered Earani. "Then he brought the great plan
into operation. It was very simple. All laws were left unchanged that
did not conflict with the one law that was made uniform throughout the
world. No marriage would in future be permitted without the sanction
of the controlling body. Every unmarried man and woman of marriageable
age was obliged to report for registration. Each was told, then and
there, whether he or she would be permitted to marry. But it was not
the end of the matter, for no marriage could be performed without the
consent of the authorities. Here Eukary's Law of Transmission came
into operation. If, subject to the clearly defined clauses of that
law, the children likely to result from that union would be an
improvement on at least one of the parents, then the marriage would be
permitted; otherwise it would be forbidden. Later on, but not until
long afterwards, the law became more stringent; the offspring had to
show an improvement over both parents."

"And how did the world take the new order?" asked Barry. "Surely not
quietly?"

"The world took the new order just as a child takes a nauseous drug,
unwillingly; but"--she went on with grim emphasis--"it took it in the
long run--Eukary saw to that."

"There must have been what we call 'ructions,' Earani," said Alan.

"There was a revolt; only one, though," she answered. "Eukary allowed
the disaffection to come to a head; he even allowed it a measure of
success, so as to induce all of his opponents to show their hand. In
his grim summary of the situation 80 per cent of the revolting faction
were defective, either mentally or physically, therefore their
elimination cleared the atmosphere. When the revolt was crushed he was
asked the fate of the survivors, and his orders were brief and
merciless--'They were warned. I cannot and will not allow opposition.
Spare none.'"

"Why," put in Barry, angrily, "he was a worse fiend than Odi."

Earani looked him over reflectively. "Dick, your profession has made
you hopelessly sentimental. I could almost think you would weep over
the fate of a tumour you were obliged to remove."

Dick laughed in spite of his anger. "No parallel, Earani," he
answered. "I would be saving a life, not destroying it."

She shook her head. "Your horizon is too limited. What use to save the
life if it were not worth saving? What use would the life be without
civilisation? These people that Eukary removed were a malignant
growth, nothing else, on civilisation."

"And the result?" asked Alan.

"Don't think that came in a generation. Eukary did not hope for that,
but he lived long enough to know that the world would never revert to
the old order. But his mighty brain was there to help the world
through the first troublous period. He had to contend with an
enormously reduced birth-rate, owing to the restriction on marriage,
but this was to a great extent counteracted by a lowered death-rate.

"As time went on the reality of Eukary's work became manifest, and the
standard of humanity rose to heights even beyond the expectation of
its founder. Gradually the percentage of defectives became lower and
lower, until there rose a feeling that to become the parents of a
child who was classed as unfit became a disgrace--as great even as the
shame of unchastity. It was from this feeling came the cult of the
unborn. The restrictions and the regulations became more severe by the
will of the people themselves, rather than by the will of the
controlling body. The law of transmission became the world's creed."

Barry shrugged his shoulders. "You are too much for me, Earani, but
butchery, even if it be discriminating, is only butchery after all.
But," he added, looking up at her laughing, "I can almost forgive
Eukary, in that you are one result of his dreams." She nodded. "Oh! I
know I am beautiful, but I can say it without vanity. It is the gift I
owe to hundreds of my forebears, who lived by the law."

"I am entirely reconciled to him now," said Alan. "Although I am
content that there are a few million years between our times, I feel
really that Eukary is one of those to whom distance lends a charm.
What more, Earani?"

"There is not much more to tell. One unexpected effect was the gradual
blending of the national confederations. It was found that racial
intermarriage gave the most vigorous offsprings under certain
conditions, and that, together with the rapidity and ease of travel,
gradually overcame racial distinctions, until the world, except for
the convenience of government, practically became one great people,
Dick"--she checked herself suddenly--"I believe, though, I can tell
you of another effect that will take that stern look of disapproval
from your face."

Barry smiled. "Your reformers were too drastic for me, Earani. It will
be a comfort to hear of something that doesn't include wholesale
slaughter."

"Well," said Earani, "perhaps this will satisfy you. Eukary was the
originator with us of the sanctity of maternity. True, his reasons
were those of policy rather than humanity. He had to work against the
falling birth-rate. He adopted the plan of making prospective
maternity notifiable, and from that time onwards until her child was
born the mother became a ward of the State. To permit a prospective
mother to work or to have a harassing care became unthinkable. She
became something sacred, a being apart, dedicated solely to the new
life she would bring into the world. Can you reconcile that idea with
the man you class as a butcher?"

"I'd back him in that part of the plan, heart and soul," answered Barry.
"It's a pity he didn't do his reforming by gentler means, and I'd admire
him more."

"Remember, he was nearly 90 years old at the time of the revolution,"
Earani continued. "He might have wrangled for the remaining 50 years
of his life without taking one single step. The generation that came
after him and profited by his deeds made no complaint. Think of a
world full of clean-blooded, carefully-bred people, armed against
disease even before their birth, and growing stronger mentally and
physically every generation by careful selection. Our men calculated
that had it not been for Eukary, the world's races, owing to the easy
conditions of life and the absence of the tonic of war, would have
relapsed into savagery in a couple of thousand years, and only the
merciless knife of the master saved them."

"Earani is right," said Alan, looking across at her. "Did not the
French revolution save France as nothing else could have done? To take
just one instance. Was the American civil war entirely without
compensation? Would any American affirm now that his country would be
better off if it had not taken place? Oh, yes, Dick, the price seems
high at the time, and that's because at the time it is impossible for
the normal man to measure the extent of the benefits to accrue. It's
the Eukarys and his type who know."

"Two to one isn't fair," laughed Barry, "especially when one of the
two is Earani."

Earani stood up and laid her hand gently on Alan's shoulder. "Alan,
take Dick up to the world again, and turn his feet on the right path.
To-night the right path is the homeward one." She turned to Barry.
"Soon now, Dick, I shall put your feet on the right path, and--well--
we shall see;" and she waved the two men towards the curtained exit
from the "temple."

As Barry stepped into his car Alan heard a murmured remark above the
chatter of the engine. "What was that, Dick?" he asked.

"I merely remarked," said the doctor, seating himself, "damn Andax."

"Amen to that, Dicky, even if it is the first time I have agreed with
you to-day."




CHAPTER XXIII


IT was on the morning of the following Saturday that Alan was seated
in the "temple" in deep argument with Earani. For the first time there
was even a shadow of a cloud between them. Dundas was leaning back in
his chair staring at the ceiling, and there was deep concern in his
eyes and a frown on his forehead. Earani was half reclining on a couch
near by. Her splendid bare arms were thrown across the head of the
couch, and her round chin was resting on her entwined fingers. She was
apparently unmoved, except for the perplexed look in her eyes as she
watched the man.

"Even now I cannot understand, Alan. You say it would not be right for
me to go with you today, yet you give no reason. What is the play you
go to join in that I may not see?"

"Oh, Earani! There is nothing in the play that you might not see.
There will be women taking part, but--" He paused. One of the
penalties of secrecy was upon him, and he was wriggling to try to save
her feelings from the truth he could not put into words. For some
perverse reason she had demanded that he should take her with him to
Glen Cairn that day. As he paused she went on, "Then there will be
women there?"

"Twenty or more," answered Alan grimly, and through his mind there
flashed a picture of them all.

"So, Alan," she said persuasively, "that is why I wish to go with you.
I would like to meet the women of your world and talk with them.
Sooner or later I must. Why not now?"

"Earani, you must trust me. I know Barry would agree with me, too. We
must prepare for your reception before you can make your appearance.
They would not understand." It was doubly hard to refuse anything she
asked when she pleaded.

"Alan, I think you are cruel," she said softly.

This was too much for Dundas. "Earani, Earani," he said, almost
bitterly. "With all your science, and with all your generations of
eugenics, Eukary could never make a woman anything but a woman."

Earani rose to her feet and looked down at him. Then she laughed long
and softly, swaying herself slightly as she stood. "Alan. Oh, Alan!
That was mighty truth. It seems but yesterday that Andax hurled the
same reproach at me. 'After all, what use to give you a man's brain
when you are a woman?' Oh, Alan! You should have heard the scorn he
put into the word." And then she broke off to laugh merrily. "Tell me,
Alan, and look at me when you answer. Would you have me anything
else?"

She stood watching him, her splendid grey twin stars full of mirth,
and the curved red lips parted, showing a snowy line beneath. Her
glorious face was framed in the masses of her silky hair that hung to
her knees, and she crossed the white hands on her breast in an
attitude of mock humility.

Dundas leaned forward slightly. He knew it was deliberate coquetry,
and this was not the first time she had displayed it, but in spite of
himself his hands went to his eyes for a moment as if to shut out
something too dazzling for sight. Then he looked at her again, and
shook his head. "God forbid you should ever be anything but yourself,
Earani," he answered slowly, almost in a whisper.

Then her mood changed suddenly, though a mischievous smile still
played on her lips. "Ah, well, I will not worry you, Alan," she said.
"To-day I will read, perhaps, or stay here and think of things I must
do. But you--go, and do not think about my foolishness any more." She
walked with him to the first landing. A few days before, Dundas and
Barry, under Earani's supervision, had erected an elevator in the
shaft of the great staircase. It was a piece of machinery that Earani
had produced from one of the galleries, and which had since been a
source of wonder and delight to the men on account of its simplicity
and perfection. The hardship of the journey to and from the homestead
had been no small matter when constantly undertaken, and their new
means of transport had been a welcome relief.

Alan stepped into the cage, and placed his hand on the controlling
lever. "Well, I shall see you this evening, anyhow, for I shall be
back by dusk. Till then--" He waved his hand as the cage shot up into
the darkness. But Earani stood for some moments after he had
disappeared. Then she made her way to the galleries below, and busied
herself amongst divers strange implements. Every now and again she
paused and smiled, and had Alan seen that smile his serenity would
have been badly shaken.

Saturday afternoon was "the" day on the Glen Cairn tennis court. Even
the golf club admitted its social superiority. As in all country towns,
few of the men had leisure during the week to play, but the Saturday
gathering brought them in not only from the town itself, but from a
dozen miles round. The club courts formed a common meeting-ground and
the centre of the social part of their lives. The club leased a corner
of the town park, and had surrounded itself with a dozen rows of pepper
trees that had flourished so that a stranger might walk past it without
knowing that within the sacred grove lay the holy of holies of Glen
Cairn society. Whoso held the right to pass the white gate labelled
"Members only" knew himself to be one of the elect. Truly a democratic
community were the good citizens of the borough and the shire of Glen
Cairn, but the citizens who engaged in retail trade might not rub
shoulders with the citizen who worked like a labourer for five and
one-half days of the week but who did not engage in retail trade. With
the exception of George MacArthur, old Tom Gaynor, the storekeeper,
easily led the procession so far as this world's goods were concerned,
and he alone knew what sums the various members of the club owed him for
goods sold and delivered, but not even the majesty of the rabbit-trimmed
mayoral robes could carry him one step beyond that white picket gate.
Not that it troubled Tom to any extent, but it is on record that Tom's
better half had been heard to express herself with freedom and fluency
(and she could be both free and fluent of speech) on what she called the
"dashed cheek of them tennis club people." In justice to the men of Glen
Cairn, however, let it be put on record that the committee of the club
was almost entirely feminine. It was a rare, golden winter afternoon,
with just the first hint of coming spring in the air, and the day had
drawn even a larger assemblage than usual. On the verandah of the
clubhouse and round the courts were gathered the youth (there was plenty
of it) and the beauty (not quite so much) of the district, likewise the
matrons who gathered there for reasons best known to themselves.

When Alan arrived, accompanied by Rickardson, his presence was hailed
by a volley of good-natured chaff that disturbed him not one whit. At
the last moment he had written to Mistress Doris to say that, though
he would appear on Saturday, he would not play, pleading want of
practice. He made his way by slow stages towards the club-house; truth
to tell, by no means anxious to face a group that his eyes had taken
in the moment he came out on to the courts. There in one corner, were
seated, in canvas chairs, Mistress Doris, Madam Kitty, and Marian
Seymour. He felt in his heart that what had passed between him and
Marian on that memorable night was no small thing to her. With another
girl, perhaps a kiss pressed on unreluctant fingers, or a few soft
words whispered during a moonlight drive, might mean but little, but
with Marian he knew this meant much more, and not even the glory of
Earani could drive from his mind the memory of the look he had seen in
her eyes that night, and no amount of attempted self-deception could
make him feel anything but guilty on her account. And so he put off
the inevitable meeting.

He lingered beside the tea table, where Bella Pook was performing a
miracle as great as that of the loaves and fishes by pouring tea from
a two-pint teapot for nearly fifty people. It was no small relief to
him then, when Rickardson, who had picked up MacArthur, came his way
again, and under their escort he approached the group. With all his
shortcomings, it was hard to dislike MacArthur, and his cheerful
absence of self-consciousness made him proof against the arrows of
feminine disapproval. Dundas knew that George had--more than once--come
under the ban of the matrons' displeasure, and that the last occasion
was all too recent, and it amused him to notice how calmly the culprit
disregarded his punishment, and made himself one of the little party
in the corner.

Marian greeted Alan without a trace of restraint, but, on the other
hand, without the slightest warmth. That she was deeply hurt by his
conduct she would not try to conceal from herself, but she would
rather have died than let him know how bitterly she resented it. So
that Doris, who watched their meeting with a true matchmaking
interest, found but little in it to satisfy her curiosity. At the
first opportunity she flashed a wireless to Madame Kitty, but found
that that interested spectator was also out of her bearings.

"Mrs. Bryce," said Rickardson, "I caught this--" and he put his hand
on Alan's shoulder, "in the reading-room of the club. Rara avis, is it
not? You will notice that it is not even wearing seasonable plumage."

"I asked it why, and it said it had given up tennis. Miss Seymour, do
you think that the leopard can change its spots?"

Marian shook her head. "Mr. Dundas has been away for so long that I
have almost forgotten whether he plays or not. Used you to play?" she
asked, turning to Alan. There was nothing in the words themselves, but
there was an inflection in the voice that stung one of the hearers,
and caused a momentary exchange of glances between two of the others.

Alan disregarded the question. "The foundation for the statement is a
remark of mine that I am too much out of practice to play in a
tournament. You ought to know what discount to allow for Rick's
statements, Mistress Doris."

"What I want to know," asked Madame Kitty, "is whether you intend to
stay out of your shell now you have come out? Because if not, I simply
decline to renew our acquaintance until you do. If you intend to lead
a patchwork existence, you needn't expect me to."

Alan replied, "I don't know yet, but I hope to become normal before
long. Where is your man?" He deftly robbed MacArthur of the cushion he
was settling for himself, and, despite the protests of its indignant
owner, sat on the floor of the verandah with his back against a post.

When the squabble had subsided Kitty answered: "My man, as you call
him, should be here somewhere," and she glanced round the courts.

"So he is," said Rickardson, "only he happens to be obscured for the
moment by the bulk of the Rev. John Harvey Pook. If you twist your
neck, Dun, you might see him."

Alan remained passive. "I don't care enough about Pook to twist my
neck to look at him," he answered, and then, as Kitty rose to find her
man, Alan took the vacant chair, and left the cushion to be wrangled
over by the other two, with Doris as umpire.

Marian had remained silent, looking absently away, but, finding Alan
so close to her, she turned reproachful eyes on him. "Have you been
ill?" she asked in a low voice.

Dundas shook his head. He knew there was more than one question in the
words. "No," he answered slowly, "not ill, but worried a bit."

"Dr. Barry has been much at 'Cootamundra,' and as we heard nothing of
you, I thought perhaps that would account for things," said the girl
quietly.

Dundas turned from the soft, accusing eyes. "I did call," he said
meekly, "but you were away."

"Oh! but that was ages ago. Just after the night--I saw you at the
bank," she added quickly. "You do not blame me for not being there,
surely? How could I know?" She stopped suddenly.

Neither had noticed for the moment that a strange hush had fallen on
the chattering gathering, until Marian looked up with the words cut
short on her lips and her eyes fixed in wonderment. Dundas watched her
in astonishment. He saw Marian's hands clasp themselves, and she bent
forward, looking across the court. Then she said slowly as if
unconscious that she had spoken. "Oh! how lovely, how wonderful!"
Almost immediately afterwards MacArthur's voice cut in behind him:
"Great Scott! Ricky, it's a wandering angel."

Alan turned in his chair, then shot to his feet electrified. There,
across the courts, apart from all others, stood Earani--Earani, whom
he had left to "think of things she must do, or read;" but, beyond
doubt, if he were awake, Earani.

She had robed herself in the same pale blue gown that she had worn
when he had first seen her. Her massed shining hair was twined in two
arm-thick strands that fell before her from either shoulder. The dark
blue cloak was thrown back, leaving the marble arms bare beside her,
and the sunlight flashed and glittered on the jewelled belt about her
waist. Even in the first astonished moment there flashed through
Alan's mind the thought of how absolutely insignificant she made the
whole throng look in comparison. There was a dignity in her carriage
that stamped her as a being apart. She stood with quiet
unconsciousness of the sensation her appearance had caused, and she
glanced round with her great grave eyes in frank, unconcerned
curiosity, meeting the scores of strange eyes as she did so without a
trace of embarrassment of self-consciousness. As though drawn by the
intensity of his gaze, her eyes turned to Dundas, and as she saw him a
radiant smile flashed into her face. One white hand fluttered towards
him, then her voice, clear as the ring of crystal, cut into the
astonished silence: "Alan, I was afraid for the moment that you were
not here." For a second every eye turned towards Dundas, and then went
irresistibly back to Earani, who commenced to move towards him.

Alan made up his mind in a flash. He saw before him a staggering
contretemps, but, come what might, his place was beside Earani, to
take with her whatever might come, and with a great throb of love and
pride in his heart, he strode out to meet her. She waited until he was
close to her, and then said in a low voice: "I wanted to come, and I
came. It's no use being angry with me. Show me your friends." He
laughed recklessly. If he must face the music no one would have the
opportunity of seeing him flinch, and he turned with his head high and
faced the gathering on the verandah. He met the battery of questioning
eyes with his own unabashed, and Barry, in spite of his own inner
consternation, whispered a "Well done, Condor!" as the two came
forward together. Barry felt certain that he himself had some stiff
moments to face, nor did he prophesy in vain.

Now the members of the Glen Cairn Tennis Club were on the whole
decently and normally behaved people, but it took more strength than
they possessed collectively or individually to meet this abnormal
situation. Here, out of the blue sky, so to speak, had appeared a
feminine stranger of surpassing loveliness, and clothed, as one matron
afterwards affirmed, in a princess robe and an opera cloak--a
stranger, be it remembered, whose coming had been unheralded, and of
whose presence in the district they were totally ignorant. And this
radiant being had publicly and unmistakably addressed Dundas by his
Christian name before them all. So now, as the two approached, each
one of the assembly on the verandah forgot everything else in an
overwhelming curiosity. Alan's eyes met those of Barry, and in spite
of himself the look of amazement in his friend's face caused reckless
amusement to gain the upper hand, for Earani had also seen Dick, and
walked directly towards him with outstretched hand, and said, "Why,
Dick, dear boy, I'm so glad to see you here, too! You didn't expect
me, did you?"

Barry turned a helpless look on Alan. He heard beside him the gasp of
amazement from Kitty, and Alan hastened to the rescue. "Mrs. Barry, I
want you to know Miss Earani." He choked over the prefix. It seemed as
idiotic as saying Mrs. Venus. "She is a great friend of mine, and has
already met Dick"--("No doubt about that," he heard a whisper behind
him). "Earani, this is Doctor Barry's wife."

Earani turned from Dick to look at the perplexed face of Madame Kitty.
"I have wanted to know you for a long time," she said, in a smiling,
friendly voice. "I have heard much about you from Alan."

Now Kitty did not for a moment doubt the fealty of her man, but the
easy familiarity of the speech to Dick roused in her the jealousy that
is latent in even the best of women. "I do not remember hearing Dr.
Barry speak of you, Miss--Earani," she answered, noncommittally.

"Oh!" answered Earani. "That is proof that he can be trusted, for I
made him promise that he would not speak of me to anyone, even to you,
and you see he has obeyed me."

The word "obey" was an unfortunate choice, and the flush in her face
and the light in her eyes told Alan that, for Madame Kitty at least,
Earani would take no little explaining. But the moment's tension was
relieved from an unexpected quarter, for the Reverend John Harvey Pook
(no one ever thought of shortening that collection of names) heaved
his black bulk into the arena to meet what fate had prepared for him.
"My dear Dundas," he said, in his blandest tones, "may I have the
honour of being one to welcome your charming friend?"

Earani faced the interrupter. Her steady eyes swept him from head to
foot. Without turning, she spoke, "Alan, who is this man?" as one
would say, "What is this creature?"

Grasping at any chance that would give Barry breathing space, Alan
introduced the reverend gentleman by his full name, omitting not one
syllable. "I may add," put in Pook, "that I am the vicar of the parish
of Glen Cairn. You can hardly have been long in the district, or
doubtless we would have met before." There was an evident question in
the remark, and Earani's answer came unhesitatingly. "Oh, yes, I have
been here quite a long time now. I am living with my friend, Alan. But
you would not know that." She added the last sentence as an
after-thought. Alan's eyes never left Pook or Earani, but a sixth sense
told him of the sensation that went through the crowd at the frank
avowal. He knew they were on the verge of a catastrophe, but he felt
helpless to avoid it.

There could be no doubt as to the surprise on the face of the parson,
who blundered on, "Oh, then, Miss Earani, your mother will be with
you, too?"

"No," came the reply, simply. "My mother has been dead for many years.
Alan and I are quite alone together, except when Dick comes to see
us." She spoke so clearly and simply that no one present could miss a
word.

For the first time Alan looked round the silent, breathless circle. His
eyes went from the flushed face of Madame Kitty to the scandalised
countenance of Pook's wife and master, and past that again he saw the
eyes of Doris Bryce set in relentless judgment. He knew, none better,
the verdict of the onlookers, the feminine portion at any rate. The
masculine opinion found vent somewhere in a low whistle that gave Dundas
a furious desire to slay the whistler then and there. The slow-working
brain of Pook seemed entirely unable to assimilate the fact that he was
in the presence of a tragedy. "But," he blundered on, "I do not
understand--You have someone else with you, of course?"

This was too much for Alan. "Pook, my friend," he said shortly, "is
this a catechism class?"

"It appears to me--" began Pook, who had at last grasped the
situation; then he caught the look in Alan's eye, and broke off
stammering.

"It appears to you," prompted Alan with deadly politeness, when
Earani, who had become aware of the cold hostility that surrounded her
without in the least understanding it, broke in--"Alan, what is a
vicar?"

"A vicar," said Alan, struggling with a wild desire to laugh at the
effect of this simple question on the countenance of Pook, "a vicar is
a clergyman."

"Oh!"--she looked the reverend gentleman over with mild interest--"you
are one of the priest class. I might have known." Pook was plainly
qualifying for apoplexy. "What creed do you teach, priest?"

He was a low churchman, and to be publicly told that he belonged to
the priest class, and then to be addressed as "priest," was more than
Pook could endure. It savoured too much of the Rome his soul
anathematised. "Young woman," he stammered, waving an ineffectual paw,
"I have been a minister of God for five and twenty years." What more
he could have said was cut short by Earani's clear, incisive voice--
"Man, you have been a minister to your stomach for much longer."

There was a gasp of amazement at this frank generalisation, and here
and there a scarcely smothered laugh went up. Dundas, horrified,
attempted to interfere. "Oh! that is not right, Earani."

"But, Alan," she persisted, "I tell you it is right. Look at him. He
eats too much. His very brain is fat."

Before Alan could utter another word Mrs. Pook flew to the rescue,
purple with fury. "How dare you! How dare you speak to my husband in
such a manner?"

"Are you his wife?" asked Earani calmly, disregarding the fury of the
demonstration.

The good lady gaped. "His wife! I am his wife. You--you..."

"Then God help your offsprings. It would be a crime to let two such
people breed." Earani spoke with calm decision. There was no warmth in
her words. They were uttered as a matter of fact.

"John Harvey--come away--at once! Must I stay here to be insulted by
this shameless woman?" She caught the outraged vicar by the arm and
drew him off the verandah. There was a general movement amongst the
scandalised womenfolk, and Earani watched the movement with mild
surprise. "Alan," she asked, "are these people all fools? What have I
done that these women hate me? I feel they do, even the wife of Dick;"
and she turned to Kitty, who met her with one blazing glance and
turned away.

Alan determined to make one desperate effort to retrieve the position.
Mistress Doris had held her ground, watching the proceedings, and
beside her, with stormy eyes, stood Marian. Dundas drew Earani towards
her, the crowd parting before them. "Doris, there has been a terrible
misunderstanding," he said, as he reached her. "I want to try and
explain."

Doris looked at him with level eyes, taking no notice of Earani. "How
long did you say your friend had been living with you, Mr. Dundas?"

Alan had never heard that voice before. "Six months, but..." He got no
further.

"I think there has been a misunderstanding--but it will not continue.
Marian, dear, are you coming?" and, taking the girl's arm, Doris
swept past as though Earani and Alan were non-existent. Her move was
the signal for a general exodus, for Doris held no little power in the
land, and scandalised matrons gathered their little flocks and fled,
carrying in their train their mankind.

Dundas recognised the futility of a struggle against such overwhelming
odds. He shook his head in answer to a mute inquiry in Dick's eyes,
and felt relieved when he saw Barry turn away reluctantly with his
wife and follow the crowd. Some of the men would have gladly waited,
but, realising that it was "not their funeral," thought it better to
leave. In a few minutes all who were left on the deserted courts
besides Earani and Dundas were Rickardson, MacArthur and Bryce. Alan
did not know that his old friend had been present until he found him
standing by his side.

Earani had watched the flight in silence. There was the flicker of an
amused smile about her lips. She turned to Alan at last. "Alan, what
is it that I have done? You were right when you said that your friends
would not understand me, and you might have said that I would not
understand them."

"I'm afraid, Earani, there is too much to tell to explain now. What
you have done cannot be helped. We must leave the rest to time. I
think the only thing to do now is to go back to 'Cootamundra.' At
least, before you go, you must know these three, the only ones who
have stayed," and he nodded to the men who stood looking on.

Earani shook her head. "No, Alan, I have lost you too many friends
to-day through my folly. Not now, but later, when they understand." She
turned and stepped from the verandah. Dundas made as if to follow, but
she waved him back with a smile. "Stay there. I go the way I came."
She walked swiftly; before he could move, she had turned the corner of
the clubhouse. A moment later Dundas ran in the direction she had
taken, but when he reached the corner the tall, cloaked figure had
vanished. He looked round dazed. It seemed impossible that she could
have gone beyond his sight in the few seconds, even the close-growing
peppers could not have hidden her completely, but the fact remained,
she had gone as though the ground had swallowed her up.

Alan turned back to the verandah and met the questioning eyes of the
three. "She's gone," he said.

"Gone where? How?" asked Bryce. It was the first time he had spoken.

"I haven't the faintest idea, but she's gone," said Alan, and his
mystified air showed that he spoke the truth.

MacArthur laughed. "Well, Dun, she said that she would go the way she
came, and she did, because I happened to be looking across the courts
when she arrived, and I'm prepared to swear that the lady didn't walk
on from anywhere. She just happened. One moment she wasn't and the
next she was. Do you get me? Most disconcerting. Dun--is she--pardon a
question--is she real?"

"Oh! ask Pook," said Dundas savagely. Then, after a moment, "Good
Lord! What a mess!"

Then Rickardson spoke up. "Look, Dun, Mac and I only waited to know if
we could do anything. For any mortal thing we can do we're yours. Only
say the word."

Alan shook his head. "Good pals, but it's no use. Nothing could stop
the talk. Jove! Mac, you'll be a plaster saint compared with me now.
If you're going back to the club you might drop a hint that I'm not
receiving visitors."

"All right, Dun," said MacArthur. "We'll leave you to Bryce. But,
remember, call on us at any time"; and the two swung off together to
discourage gossip at the club in their own peculiar fashion, with
blind faith in their friend in his trouble.

It was not until their figures were hidden in the trees that Dundas
turned to Bryce, who stood by, tugging at his moustache, and eyeing
his friend with profound perplexity.

"Well, Hec," he said, "and the verdict is?"

"Judgment reserved--for the moment," answered Bryce, pushing both
hands deep into his pockets. "Let me hear your version, Alan. To put
it mildly, you'll admit there's an explanation due."

"How much did you hear?" asked Dundas.

"Pretty well everything, I think. Enough, anyhow, to shake my faith in
human nature. Enough, almost, to shake my faith in you. Alan, what
devil's scrape have you got into?"

"Listen, Hec. You've known me since I was a little shaver. You know me
better than any man does. If I give you my word of honour that, in
spite of appearances, although what she said about our being alone at
'Cootamundra' is true, for it is true, will you take my word that to
me she is sacred?" He spoke in a low, earnest voice, and looked Bryce
appealingly in the face.

Bryce's hand shot out. "Dun, I'd take that word of yours, and, thank
God for it I do believe you. But can you help me to make others
believe?"

Dundas smiled grimly. "Hec, that's just the point. You'll believe me
blindly, and MacArthur and Rickardson. Barry knows, too. But the
trouble is I can tell you nothing, for a while at any rate. Afterwards
the whole world may know. But at the moment--well--I just can't,
that's all."

"If you have to make a mystery of her, Alan, what on earth possessed
you to bring her here to-day? It was suicidal."

"I didn't," came the brief reply. "Another thing, Hec, if I were to
tell you the idea that's in my mind concerning her arrival here you'd
jump about ten feet into the air with shock."

Bryce rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Well, Dun, here's the situation.
You've disappeared for nearly six months. All attempts to rout you out
and explain matters were futile. Then, without warning, you are
publicly claimed by--. May I go on?"

Dundas nodded.

"By the most"--Bryce paused again, searching for a word. "Don't you
see, Alan, that it's her overpowering beauty that damns her and you
hopelessly in the eyes of every woman in the place. Gad, man! Whatever
they thought of her, they would pardon you if it were not for that.
Why her face is enough to drive anyone crazy. Can't you see how
hopeless it will be to try and explain?"

Dundas threw up his arms. "Dash it all, Hec! I know. I know, but I
don't care a damn. Let them think what they like. One thing I can
promise you is that before long every woman who turned away today will
give her eyes almost to be able to say that she knows her. I won't try
to explain to Mistress Doris--you saw our meeting?" Bryce nodded.
"Only try and get her to think more kindly. Tell her she'll be sorry
some day that she doubted."

"Dun, what about Barry? He seemed to be pretty well involved."

Alan laughed. "Afraid poor old Dick will have a bad time. The only
thing is that perhaps Kitty will be too busy with me to remember him.
Anyhow, it was a purely professional matter."

Bryce grinned under his moustache. "I hope your theory may prove
correct, only if a client at the bank who resembled a goddess from
Olympus addressed me as your friend addressed Dick--well, I'm afraid I
couldn't plead business to Doris as a getaway--at least, with any hope
of success."

"I'll trust old Dick to get clear," said Alan with a chuckle. "Taking
it all round I think that was about the liveliest ten minutes in the
history of Glen Cairn. I'll get home now, I think."

"But," said Bryce, "what about Miss Earani. How will she manage?"

Alan looked round thoughtfully. "No need to worry, Hec. As she said,
she'll go the way she came, and," he added, "I've an idea that she's
well on her way now."

They walked off together in the direction of the town, Alan chaffing
Bryce that he would damage his reputation being seen with the culprit
of the day. In spite of his apparent good humour, Dundas was bitterly
angry with all concerned, with the exception, perhaps, of the real
offender. They parted at the club, and a few minutes later Alan was
pelting down the main street behind Billy. He was biting his underlip
savagely, and his cheeks were burning with anger. As he had turned out
of the club yard he had been obliged to make way for a buggy driven by
a girl, who looked him through with contempt in her eyes.

A man who had been shooting that afternoon, and who had not heard the
"very latest," turned up at the club afterwards, and gave a
description of how Dundas had passed him on the way home driving like
one possessed, and when in answer to questions he affirmed that Dundas
was alone in his dogcart, the hum of talk rose a few degrees higher.




CHAPTER XXIV


ALAN reached 'Cootamundra' somewhat steadied by his drive, and with
the determination of letting Glen Cairn thank what it pleased until he
would be ready to enlighten the disgruntled township. The soft,
velvety dusk had set in, and a full moon was beginning to climb into
the sky by the time he had finished with Billy and turned to the
homestead. He felt perfectly sure that Earani would be back before
him, and he intended to go straight to the "temple," where he expected
to find her; but as he approached the verandah he saw her awaiting him
beneath its shadow.

He stood bareheaded before her, and for a time neither spoke. It was
the woman who broke the silence. "Am I forgiven?" she asked, holding
out both hands. There was an adorable penitence in her glorious eyes,
and the little upturned palms pleaded more eloquently than the voice.
Forgotten; forgotten the humiliation and the anger; forgotten the
reproaches; and his mind was swept clear of the jarring trouble of the
day. The few softly murmured words healed every wound. "Oh, Earani!"
he broke out, "what is there to forgive? The blame was mine alone. I
should have warned you. I should have made you understand. Can you
forgive me?"

One soft hand fell lightly on his arm. "Let us forget for the time,
Alan. Is this a night to let troubles come between us? Look!" The
growing moonlight threw its mystery over them. Across the flats from
the river line floated streamers of silvery mists, like long
battalions of wraiths. The silver light on the dew-drenched grass
spread a jewelled carpet before them, The great stretch of naked vines
was toned to a grey haze, and every harsh line softened and melted
into the dim landscape. But over all was the silence of great spaces--
that solemn stillness that only falls where nature is still untroubled
by the works of men.

There was a long silence. It seemed to Alan that he was living in a
dream. Her hand still rested on his arm, and she stood absolutely
motionless, gazing into the night. He turned and looked into her face,
and as he did so it seemed that the great wave of love and adoration
that rushed into his heart swept away every trace of fear and doubt.
Unabashed his eyes drank in her radiant beauty--the beauty that had
taken possession of his soul from the first time his eyes had fallen
on her seemed to have grown as the days had passed, until now, with
the rapt mystery in her eyes, she seemed something unearthly in her
loveliness. The light touch of her white hand on his arm burnt like
fire, and he felt his body quivering with the wild desire to clasp her
to him, and words that could not find utterance storming to his lips.
As though drawn by the intensity of his passion, she turned her head
slowly until her eyes met his. For a moment the revelation in them
held him dumbfounded. The he whispered her name. "Earani! Oh, Earani,
is it..." He broke off, unable to frame the words that held his fate. Her
eyes met his, fearless, but with a new and splendid light in them.
"Alan, why do you fear to speak the words that your heart bids you
speak? Or do the maidens of your race tell their love to the men?"

He caught the slender white hand in his. "I have been silent, Earani,
my loved one, because I dared not hope. Who am I that I should hope?
Oh, love, I am not worthy. It was enough to be near you, to hear your
voice, to worship from afar. I love you, Earani--love you! Oh, Earani,
be pitiful to the heart that worships you!" And as he spoke her free
hand stole about his neck, and the great grey eyes, so brave at first,
grew softer with a strange shyness. Then the shadow of lashes hid the
confession they bore within them. Then he knew; and with a glad cry of
rapture his arms swept her to him, and he pressed his face to the
bowed head on his shoulder. And for a space the world stood still.
Then to his whispered entreaty she raised her face to his, and their
lips met.

Later, arm in arm and soul in soul, they wandered away together into
the night, through a new world empty of all save themselves; and the
round moon looked down on the maid of the long-lost race and the man
of the new, telling each other the old, wordless story. So at length
they reached the river and came to rest, Earani seated on a fallen log
and Alan at her feet.

With a little laugh she encircled his neck with her arms and bent over
him, looking into his eyes. "Oh, man of mine, are we wise? I have
given my heart and all, and, by my love for you, perhaps it were
better had we left the tale untold."

"There never were two people half so wise, Earani," he answered,
taking the hand that caressed his head and holding it to his lips. "To
doubt the right to our happiness would be almost blasphemy."

"And yet, Alan--" She paused with a little sigh.

"And yet?" he queried.

"I have the gift that has been developed by generations before me of
reading the minds of others, and today I read in the mind of a woman
who stood near you a love for you that is as strong and as deep as
mine. Oh, Alan! my love, perhaps--and I say it because I love you--it
had been better had I stood aside. It may be that your greater
happiness lay there. Tell me what lies between you?"

Simply, in answer, Dundas told the tale, omitting nothing, sparing
himself nothing. "So you see," he said in the end, "whatever might
have been is past. I am sorry--more sorry than I can say, because I
know she is good--if I have harmed her; but, beloved, can a man fight
against the real love that comes unsought? Would I not wrong her more
by going to her when every beat of my heart is for you, and every
thought of my mind is of you?"

"Perhaps it is written so, and we must follow the path laid down." She
smiled down at him. "You were right when you said we were only women
and can never get away from it; for almost I could have slain her when
I felt her love for you, even though I have known from the very first
of your love for me."

Alan laughed in turn. "This love seems to bring us back to the
beginning of things, for I, too, think that way of Andax, who waits
his freedom. What will he say when he knows you are promised to me?"

Earani drew his head closer, and bent over him smiling. "So, big man
of mine, you think Andax might want me for himself. You need have no
fear of that. Andax--well, neither he nor any of his blood ever gave a
thought to women. From his point of view we have a low economic value,
and our sole purpose in his mind is that we continue the race. He
knows, too, the law that was laid on us that if we survived the
wrecked world we might not intermarry. When the time comes he will ask
me to find him a wife, and, provided she comes up to certain physical
and mental standards which he will expect me to inquire into, he will
not care what she looks like, and probably won't notice." She shrugged
her shoulders with a laugh. "Ah, Alan! he will not be an exacting
husband; but I won't envy the woman who is chosen."

"I shouldn't think he would be very attractive," replied Alan, with a
weight off his mind.

"And yet," answered Earani, "women have thrown themselves at the feet
of men of the same blood; have died for them; have sinned for them;
knowing them all to be as callous as stones. It is too true, Alan; no
amount of development would make us anything but women."

"Thank God for that," said Dundas. "Had it been otherwise you would
have stayed at home to-day instead of exercising your perversity in
stirring up my friends at Glen Cairn."

Earani laughed quietly. "Tell me, Alan. Why did they fly like birds
before a hawk? What code of yours have I outraged? I could feel the
hatred of those women beat against me like stones."

Dundas looked away, frowning. "Why worry about what they think? They
are what they are. Dear heart, is their littleness worth a second
thought of yours?"

She put her hand beneath his chin and raised his face to hers. "Tell
me, Alan."

His eyes fell before a sudden enlightenment in hers. "Earani, they
hated you for your beauty, that made them look so small."

But she judged more truly. "No, Alan; I see it now. They condemned me
as unchaste." She spoke without a tremor in her voice.

He caught the white hands in his. "Dear love, I would have spared you
that thought--" He broke off miserably, and bowed his head upon her
knees, but she raised him again.

"I see it now, Alan. You must not blame yourself. But are the women of
this world such that their good name could not stand were they to live
alone with a man unguarded? Is their purity so weak a thing? With us a
thought so vile would have brought shame only to the one that uttered
it. Ah, Alan, this world of yours has further to go even than I
thought."

"That is why I tried to prevent you going, heart of my heart," he said
bitterly. "Truly they judged you as they would judge themselves.
'Forgive them, for they know not what they do,'" he quoted.

She smiled down at him, stroking his hair tenderly. "I pity them,
Alan; perhaps we two together may teach them a greater faith, but..." she
paused for a moment, and an expression came into her eyes that
startled him.

"What is it, Earani?" he asked.

She laughed again. "I was thinking that it is well at the time I did
not read their thought, or perhaps the lesson may have been learned so
swiftly that a score of lives would be too short a time to forget it."

"A lesson would have done them good, I think," replied Dundas; "but,
you worker of wonders, you have not told me how you came to be there
or how you left so suddenly. Teach me the answer to that riddle, most
wonderful."

"You did not guess?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Except I felt that you moved by paths unknown to
me."

Earani stood up and stepped back from him. "Watch and you will
understand." Then as she stood she disappeared. He gave a gasp;
although a suspicion of the kind had crossed his mind, the actual
happening was staggering in effect. One moment she was before him
smiling and radiant, and the next she had vanished completely. Then as
he stood staring he heard a low, soft laugh beside him, and two arms
stole tenderly and swiftly about his neck. For a second he felt her
warm breath and her lips lightly touch his cheek, but ere he could
clasp his arms about her she had gone, and the mocking, merry laughter
rang out behind him. Had there been a witness to what followed who did
not hold the key to the mystery that witness would have gone away with
the firm conviction that Dundas had entirely lost his reason. For in
the moonlight on the river bank, with a zeal and persistence that
seemed entirely unwarranted, he hunted a voice that mocked and a laugh
that rang like silver, now here, now there. One moment she was beside
him, and the next far beyond the reach of his outstretched arms. It
was a new game, fascinating beyond words. Sometimes his hand brushed
her flowing robe, and once a perfumed strand of her hair fluttered for
a moment across his face, but ever she eluded his eager hands. Until,
almost breathless, he was giving up the chase as hopeless, his arms
closed about her, and as they did he found himself looking into her
laughing eyes, and her sweet red lips were there to ask his pardon and
to receive their just punishment. "Still," said Earani, as they
wandered back to the homestead, "that is only part of the mystery. I
had to disappear before I could carry out the other." She turned and
motioned him to stand still.

"Don't hide again, dear heart," he begged.

She shook her head, but mischief brimmed in her eyes. "No, I will not
hide, but..." She raised both hands to her breast, then lightly, and
without effort, she floated off the ground. With a movement full of
perfect grace, she bent forward as though swimming through the air,
and circled slowly around him, and as gently as she had risen she came
to rest beside him. "Well," she asked laughing, "have you nothing to
say?" Dundas shook his head. "I won't try and say anything--though,
Earani, I half-suspected something of the kind," he answered. "But
tell me how it is done, and may I, too, learn the art?"

"The art is easily learned," she answered. "One of our scientists
stumbled, by accident, on the real cause of the force of gravity, and
after that the means of controlling it were discovered almost
immediately, and from that time the problems of travel and transport
were solved for all time. Like everything else, it was very simple."

"MacArthur said you were a wandering angel when he saw you to-day,"
replied Dundas, "but he would have been absolutely convinced had your
arrival at Glen Cairn not been invisible. I am glad, dear heart, that
the secret is mine yet, for I am jealous of every eye that sees you.
Still, most wonderful, we must soon let the world know all about you.
I hate to think of the thoughts that are in the minds of those women,
and I long to claim you as my own before them all."

They had reached the homestead again, and he held her tenderly to him,
and her soft white arms were about his neck. "Soon now, Alan; but
first we must release Andax."

"Must we wait until then," he pleaded.

One gentle hand caressed his cheek. "Oh, man of mine, I am bound. You
would not have me break a great trust, a charge that was laid on me by
the millions who have gone?"

He sighed. "You are right, and I must be patient. But it will not be
long?" he asked.

"No, I think, not long now," she answered softly. "Not one moment
longer than I can help. My heart is with yours in that."

"But we will need help, Earani. Even before we release him we must
tell our world about you. To reach Andax where he lies will need the
fitting out of a great expedition, with perhaps thousands of helpers,
if his great sphere is buried. The spot itself is almost
inaccessible."

She smiled quietly, and said: "The great expedition to release Andax
will consist of two people, Alan and Earani, perhaps three, if you
would like Dick to join us."

"Do you mean we could do it alone?" he asked puzzled.

"I could do it alone," she answered, "if there were no one to help me.
Think, Alan; from what you have seen do you suppose anything has been
left to chance? Beneath our feet lies, all ready to put together, a
ship that will carry us surely and swiftly to any spot on earth. And
with that ship will go the means by which we may tear mountains
asunder if necessary, and merely by pulling a lever."

"And you have no fear that you may not be able to find the spot?" he
questioned.

"Before we start even," she answered, "I will be able to mark the spot
so surely that when the time comes we will be able to alight exactly
upon it."

"And then, when he has been brought back to life?"

"Then for a while I must be at his side." She saw the look of
disappointment in his eyes. "No, Alan, remember, it will not be for
long. What has taken me months to learn will mean with him weeks. We
will have our whole life before us. Not a few years, but many happy
ones, for I can and will give them to you."

"Forgive me, dearest. I know I must be patient, but every day that
stands between us is a year."

"Ah, Alan! and to me, too, but you will help me. The trust that is
mine I hold as sacred as my love for you. I would not be worthy of
your love if I failed there. Before my eyes were closed in the long
sleep, I bound myself by every tie of honour to place my mission
first, and I must do it."

"Then all I ask is that you will take my help, and I will follow
wherever you may lead."

"That is what I want, Alan," she answered. "When the times comes we
will be guided by Andax. I do not know what plans he will make, but I
know that it is not likely that he will move until he has mastered
every factor in the problem he will have to face."

"You are sure he will not come between us?" he asked, still doubtful.

"That I can promise. Even an Andax would not dare. It is likely he
will give us ten years to ourselves while he plans."

"And then?"

"And then," she smiled, "there will be work to do. Most likely, when
he has decided on his course, he will stand in the background and
leave the work to me. Alan, would you care to rule the world?"

He laughed ruefully. "I only want one kingdom, beloved, and that is in
your heart."

"Your throne is there already, man of mine, but you may have both
thrones. Think, heart of my heart, we two together, and powers behind
us such as are beyond your dreams, and behind the power again a brain
to guide us with all the wisdom and knowledge of the lost world. We
two together, and a world to mould and shape, not for a few brief
years, but perhaps a century of untrammelled power."

His face flushed, and his heart beat faster. "Oh, temptress! Could any
man resist?"

"So now what is left is to prepare. For a little while, perhaps
another month, you will be my teacher, then we will find the other
sphere."

"And then?"

She raised her stately head. "Then we two may face our future side by
side, until the end which will come here, and then beyond, for ever."
Her voice thrilled him with its intensity: "A forever not of years,
but of eternity. Ah, love of mine! The greatest gift of all is the
thought of that eternity of happiness. It is written."

He raised her hands reverently to his lips, and so they parted, and
long after her figure had vanished into the soft night, the memory of
her words held him wondering at the glory of their promise.




CHAPTER XXV


EARANI was lying on the great couch in the "temple," where she had
slept her long sleep. Her head and shoulders were supported by a pile
of soft cushions, and Dundas, seated close by in great content, was
feasting his eyes on the picture she made. Across his mind there came
a flash of anger to think that any one who had ever seen her could
doubt her stainless purity--the purity that seemed to radiate from
her, and shone in her deep, untroubled eyes.

There had been a long silence between them--the silence that falls
between those whose souls are in too close a communion to find a need
for words. She raised her eyes to his. "You were angry for the moment,
Alan; I felt it. What troubled you?"

He smiled back. "Could you read my thoughts, dear one?"

Earani replied, "It was just the sudden rush of anger that I felt. It
brought a shadow for the moment on my happiness. I would not read your
thoughts unless you told me to. That gift is not one that may be
lightly used."

"Then tell me why the shadow came," he challenged. She looked for a
moment into his eyes, and smiled.

"Ah, those women and their folly. Is it worth a moment's anger?"

"For myself I care nothing," he answered. "But that they dared to
doubt you. It is too much."

"But," she said, "would nor the punishment be greater for you? Why
think of me?"

"You do not understand, Earani. With us the sin they thought is as
nothing for the man. He is forgotten. The woman is forever damned."

"Why the woman?"

"It is the code; our code; unjust, cruel, but always the woman suffers
most."

"Then the law was made by men?" It was, as she said it, as much a
statement as a question.

"It may be, but it is no written law; and, believe me, the women are
its chief administrators."

She laughed. "The sex again, Alan, but with us each would bear the
same share of blame, had such a sin been possible. But we knew the
penalty too well to err."

"Penalty?" he asked.

"Oh, no legal penalty. We recognised the futility of that; but we
knew, each one, that the infraction of the moral law brought its own
penalty, so surely as day follows night. There was no discrimination
in sharing the blame."

"We know our code is rotten, but it is unalterable. I suppose it's
part of man's claim to superiority," answered Dundas, thoughtfully.

"That is what I cannot understand," she said, "'man's superiority.' I
suppose, though, you have developed in advance of your women. With us
there was no such claim by the men. We stood legally and socially
equal in all things."

"And lost the deference of the men due to your sex," he contended.

"How much of that deference is real and how much due to habit?
Deference of that kind is a poor compensation, and worse excuse, for
keeping one half of the world in subjection to the other half."

Alan laughed. "I'm just not going to argue with you, Earani. Only I
think you will find the women are ripe for your creed, if the men are
not."

"It appears to me that the men have prevented the development of the
women deliberately," she went on mercilessly. "I cannot believe that
Andax would approve, only as it happens, he cannot carry out his plans
without giving the women their just due. He will have to do as I wish
in spite of himself."

"So there are better times coming for the women?"

"I'm afraid, Alan, we will have very poor material to work on," she
said with a sigh.

Dundas chuckled. "That's ample compensation for what you have said of
the men. I wish Barry could have heard it."

"He is coming now. You can tell him yourself."

"How do you know? Most wonderful."

"I know because I can feel he is looking for you."

"May I tell him of our coming marriage?" asked Dundas, coming to her
side as she sat up.

"But lately his feeling towards me has changed; I know it."

"Surely no; I have not seen it in word or deed."

She shook her head. "And yet it is true. I can feel it too well. His
feelings are not hostile, but I know he wishes to oppose my plans."

"Why, Earani, old Dick is enthusiastic about you almost as I am."

She smiled. "Ah, well, tell him what you please. Indeed, I think if he
has eyes there will be no need to tell him," she went on, looking at
him fondly. "But, Alan, if you have an opportunity, give him a hint
that it would be unwise to oppose me. He would only harm himself, and
then I would be sorry."

Before Dundas could reply Dick's voice came booming and echoing down
the gallery. "Dundas, ahoy," and a few moments later the man himself
appeared on the "temple" steps.

As Barry's eyes fell on the two standing side by side he paused,
cutting short some words that were upon his lips. There was no need
for Dundas to tell him what had occurred between the two. It was
written on both faces, so that he that saw might read, and there was a
tightening at the heart of the doctor. He knew without being told of
his friend's devotion to Earani. Without having analysed his feelings
there had always been an uneasiness in his mind at the thought of a
marriage between the two, but whenever the thought had arisen he had
put it aside with the hope that Earani would not reciprocate. In a
flash he saw how the contretemps of yesterday had precipitated
matters, and now there came over him a sudden foreboding of evil. He
was too loyal to his friend to give the slightest indication of his
feelings. In the moment he paused he read in the faces of the two the
happiness that had come to them, and without hesitation he hurried
forward and took the hand that was held out to him. "Dun, old man, no
need to tell me. I wish you everything you hope for--Both of you," he
went on, turning to Earani. "I hope you don't expect me to be
surprised."

Earani looked at him thoughtfully. "Alan, do you know, I doubt his
discretion," she answered. Then she checked him as he was about to
protest. "Dearest, I don't doubt his loyalty to you; that is beyond
question."

Earant smiled from one to the other. "It is kind of you to wish me
happiness, Dick, after I had been so wicked yesterday. Alan has been
explaining. I feared you would never forgive me." But there was more
repentance in her words than in her looks, and Barry laughed in spite
of himself, for truth to tell Madam Kitty was far from appeased, even
after an explanation that had continued intermittently ever since they
had left the tennis courts, and that hot-headed little lady would have
been less satisfied than ever had she known that Barry's early morning
call had been to 'Cootamundra.'

"Indeed, Earani, I do not know that I have forgiven you, or will until
you have made my peace. You are all too beautiful for a woman of our
world to forgive you easily."

"And I?" asked Dundas. "Am I beyond the pale?"

Barry chuckled, reminiscently "From what I can gather, Dun, beyond
summary execution, excommunication, and a few trifles like that, you
are not likely to suffer much. Can you stand it?"

Alan drew himself up and turned to Earani. "Can we?" And for answer
she passed her hand through his arm, and Barry, watching them, saw how
little the tempest of wrath at Glen Cairn would trouble the atmosphere
at 'Cootamundra.'

"What happened afterwards, Dick?" asked Dundas. "Well, I know very
little except what I heard from Bryce this morning. I had two urgent
calls, and escaped the riot, but Hector told me over the 'phone that a
feminine deputation had waited on him and insisted that you should be
asked to resign from the club."

"And Bryce?"

"Told them he would resign himself first, and, reading between the
lines, he didn't waste any time in choosing his words."

"Good old Hector," said Alan.

Earani nodded. "So we are not without friends, and we will not forget
our friends when the time comes."

"It doesn't matter much, Dick," said Alan after a moment. "I'm not
likely to trouble Glen Cairn much in future. I will be too busy here."
He gave Barry a brief outline of their plans, and told him of Earani's
suggestion that he should join them in the search for Andax. For the
second time that day a sense of depression came over Barry. He had
thought long and earnestly over the situation, and the entrance of a
new and unknown power into the problem filled him with forebodings,
and he saw that before long a crisis must be faced that might spell
disaster for all concerned. He fenced with the question now by
replying that he would not decide about accompanying them until later.
There was one point on which he wished to enlighten himself, however,
for he hoped he might be able to find a vulnerable spot in the
ambitions of Earani.

Seating himself, he spoke to her. She had resumed her place on the
couch.

"It has occurred to me that there is one thing you have overlooked,
Earani, and you'll understand, Dun, and that is the question of money.
All your science, backed with all your knowledge, won't be much use
without gold."

"Why should we require gold, Alan?" asked Earani, turning to Dundas.

"I'm afraid Dick is right. I never thought of it before. It is
essential for everything from the very beginning. Nothing can be done
without it, and what I can supply will not go very far. There's no use
trying to evade the point. Any organisation you wish to carry out will
require an immense sum of money."

"And gold is the essential?" she asked.

Dundas nodded. "The medium of exchange throughout the world."

Earani smiled from one to the other. "I have always looked on it as a
useful metal, but I have never thought of considering it in the light
of wealth. It is difficult sometimes to adjust my ideas to yours. Tell
me how much will be wanted?"

The two men looked at one another, and Barry solved the problem by
saying that it would be impossible to have too much.

Earani looked puzzled. "It is so easy to obtain. For instance, this
home of mine here that you call the 'temple' is made of gold. The
great door to the sphere that you found so hard to open is made of
gold."

It was the turn of the two men to be astonished.

"Why, Earani," exclaimed Dick, "there must be thousands of tons of
metal in the 'temple.' Only a portion of it would be enough to give
you unlimited power." And between the two they gave her some idea of
the purchasing power of the metal.

She listened in silence, and when she had finished she turned to
Barry. "So you see, Dick, that does away with your difficulty. Though
the gold in the 'temple' will be of no use to us."

"But why not?" came the surprised question from both men.

"Because," continued Earani, "the 'temple' and the door were built of
gold because we knew of a means of hardening it, so that once the
process was complete it would be impossible to break or destroy it. No
machinery or power known to us would be able to affect it in any way.
You could stamp air into coins more easily than you would the gold you
see round you."

Alan's face fell. "So, after all, we are no nearer a solution of the
trouble."

"I did not say that. I merely said that the gold we have here would be
of no use, but it will be very easy to obtain more. We used to extract
it from auriferous soil at one time, but it was found easier to
collect from the sea. It would take a very short time to collect
sufficient to give us all the wealth we wanted." She paused, and
added: "At the same time, I think it is one of the things we would
want to keep to ourselves. Overproduction would be as bad as not
having enough."

Barry nodded. In spite of his misgivings, he could not but admire the
manner in which she grasped the weak point in her position. "There
will be no need for you to worry about 'Cootamundra,' Dun; there
appear to be easier ways of making money."

"We'll want a good deal, any way, but until we are ready to start,
what I have will be sufficient. It doesn't seem much, though, since
I've heard Earani's money-making methods. But it would not do to force
the world to make diamonds, for instance, into a standard of
exchange."

Earani laughed lightly. "It wouldn't be any use, Alan. We could make
them, too. In the end you would do what we had to do, and make the
work of your hands and brains the only medium of exchange. It's the
only just way."

Barry looked at her wondering. "And you really made diamonds, Earani?
Some of our men claim to have made them."

For answer she rose and went to a cabinet, which she opened. "Here,
Dick, take this proof and try and make my peace with your wife for me.
Tell her that I am not nearly as wicked as she believes me to be, and
I hope some day she will acknowledge it." As she spoke she placed on
the table a great belt that drew a gasp of amazement from both men. It
seemed as if she had spread out a stream of blazing fire. The belt was
composed of a dozen links closely woven together with exquisite
jeweller's work, and each link was composed of one great perfect white
diamond. Each stone must have been nearly three inches across, and
each flashed back the brilliant lighting of the "temple" in a blaze of
myriad-coloured fires. Barry held it up and let it fall in a heap,
where it lay in a dazzling, splendid mass.

"Earani, I could not accept such a gift. It is worth a king's--no, a
kingdom's--ransom."

Earani laughed. "It is a small gift for a friend, Dick. Take it. It
was made by a man merely to prove that it could be made, and its sole
value is in its beauty. Let your wife wear it for my sake," and she
lifted it up and placed it in his hands.

Barry looked at Dundas in perplexity. "Take it, Dick," said Alan.
"Earani wishes you to have it. Madame Kitty's heart would be harder
than any of those stones if she could resist such a lure."

Barry took the blazing mass in both hands, and turned it over and
over, watching the play of myriad lights flashing through it, then
turned to Earani, smiling. "I will accept it gladly; but, Earani,
there are men in the world, and plenty of them, too, who would send me
to my death to possess but one link of this chain. I will keep it from
my wife until she may have it with safety. As for my peace with her--"
he broke off and laughed lightly, "it must come without being bought."

Earani nodded. "Ah, Dick, you have wisdom in some things, at any rate,
where I can teach you nothing."

Barry dropped the belt into the pocket of his Norfolk jacket, and
slapped the bulge that it made. "Most people would diagnose an
instrument case instead of half a million in diamonds. I'll make Bryce
the innocent curator of these until they are ready for Kitty."

"And so," said Dundas, as he sat down again, "the question of finance
is disposed of. Have you any more objections or obstacles to raise,
Dick?"

Barry shook his head. "It seems waste of time, Dun. The only obstacle
that Earani and Andax will have to face will be the human element."

Earani looked at him a moment before answering. "The unknown quantity,
Dick?"

Barry nodded. "Don't forget that when Eukary started his reformation
he was dealing with a more intelligent and pliable material than you
will have to handle. You will have to reckon with the most obstinate
and savage resistance from one end of the world to the other."

"They will bend or break," said Earani, shortly. Then, after a moment
she went on: "Andax will not move before allowing for every factor,
but your world is ready for the changes we will bring. They cannot
come too soon now."

"And if they resist?" asked Barry.

A slow smile came to Earani's lips. "Ah! Dick, you little know how
useless resistance would be. We might have to depopulate one-half of
the world; indeed, it is likely we will have to do it. No," she held
up her hand to check Barry's protest. "No, Dick, there can be no
resistance. The world will learn that quickly. It would be the kinder
way."

"Your theories are terrible, Earani. Has life no value in your eyes?"

"You cannot understand, Dick. On the contrary, it is sacred so long as
a being is worthy of the life. Tell me--If a thousand or ten thousand
men could by any possible means throw back the world's civilisation,
say, to your tenth century, and wipe out all your knowledge and wisdom
from the world, would you hesitate to strike to save all--even if you
did it with your own hand?"

Barry was silent. She turned to Dundas. "Alan?"

He spoke without hesitation. "I should strike."

Earani went on. "It is the same thing, Dick. Andax and I can advance
your world more in a century than it has advanced in the past two
thousand years. We have the power to do it. We know we are right. Then
we will use that power, and let nothing stand in our way. To do
otherwise would be folly--worse, weakness." She stood up. "Your world
is full of crime, disease, and suffering. It must, and shall, be
cured, and if in the healing we cause some pain, it is nothing. That
passes, and is forgotten. The world in time to come will bless the
pain that gave it happiness." There was a ring of finality and even
warning in her voice that left no room for protest. Although no word
was said, Barry felt that the warning was levelled at him, and it
seemed for the moment that she clashed a mighty door between him and
hope.

He sighed and looked up at her. "Perhaps when you have learned more
you will deal gently with us, Earani."

"Cheer up, Dick," said Alan, laughing at his friend's evident
discomfiture. "I'm relying on the world's common sense. It will take
its medicine when it knows it is going to do it good."

"You've more faith in the world's common sense than I have, Dun,"
growled Barry. "The world has a prejudice against doing what it is
told to do, and a preference for doing what it likes. You can't alter
the ingrained habits of human nature without dislocating something
pretty seriously, any more than you could in stopping dead an engine
running at full speed. I foresee ructions." He spoke lightly, but his
heart was heavy as lead.

Earani looked from one to the other. "Don't worry, Dick; perhaps Alan
is right," she said. "In fifty or seventy years perhaps you will smile
to think of your anxiety now."

Barry laughed lightly. "It does me good to hear you speak of time like
that, Earani. I'll be over a hundred then; perhaps I'll be wiser.
Alan, we have an interesting half century in front of us. Faith! I
must get away now, or the ructions will commence sooner than I
anticipate."

"Take him up to the world again, Alan, and then come back to me," said
Earani, laughing good-bye.

The two men reached the surface, and walked slowly towards Barry's car
in silence. Dick stopped to crank up, but paused, and turned to Alan.
"Dun, I'm afraid I won't he able to come out quite so often," he said.

Dundas looked at him anxiously for a moment, and then his face
cleared. "Of course, Dick, I understand. I'd hate to think that your
practice would be affected by the prejudice of the fools in there. But
come if you can. I can let you know anything that is happening here."

Barry was about to speak more plainly, but accepted his friend's
solution of his words. Why worry Alan yet, he thought. Time enough for
that. Instead he nodded. "They have really cut up pretty rough in Glen
Cairn, Dun; more than I cared to tell you before Earani. It was a most
infernal contretemps. Why on earth did you bring her?"

Alan laughed lightly. "She came unbeknownst, like. Altogether, I'm not
sorry. But I was sorry on your account. Madam Kitty looked furious."

It was Barry's turn to laugh. "Dun, I've been explaining ever since,
and all the time I'm admitting to myself that in the face of the
evidence for the prosecution my explanations look fishy. But it is
funny. One moment Kitty is raving over Earani's beauty, and the next
she is raging over her impertinence. She says one is as great as the
other."

Dundas whistled, but Barry still laughed. "Time is the healer. Still,
Dun, you and 'Cootamundra' are anathema for the moment, so I'll
scuttle before the storm until it blows over."

"Dick"--Dundas paused for a moment, and went on, "you are anxious
about Andax?"

Barry's face clouded. "I can't help it, Alan. I'm sorry now that we
handled this alone, or that I ever came into it. God knows where it
will end. It's a big thing to have on one's conscience."

Dundas looked down, and kicked absently at a grass tussock. "I've a
message for you, Dick."

"A message?"

"Perhaps not a message exactly," he paused, feeling for words.

"Out with it, Dun. I think the less we hide from one another, the
better for all concerned."

"Well, Dick, Earani has an idea that you might try to interfere--and--"

"Well?" Barry eyed him curiously.

"And she told me to give you the hint that it would not be exactly
healthy for anyone to do that. You know, Dick, she likes you, and she
says she's afraid you might get hurt."

Barry smiled grimly. "I think that would be very possible, Dun. Still,
I'm glad you told me." He looked off across the grey vineyard. "Jove!
I wonder what is the limit of the powers she holds. Ah! well, it's no
use speculating." He cranked the car, and held out his hand. "We are
on the lap of the gods. Buck up, Dun," and a moment later the car was
speeding down the drive.

All the way back to Glen Cairn Barry stared straight before him,
driving mechanically, and his thoughts were very grave. He had not
given Dundas his real reasons for discontinuing his visits. For some
time past his anxiety had grown to an intolerable extent. He was torn
between loyalty to Dundas and his fear of the untrammelled power that
they together had let loose on the world. He knew that in Alan's eyes
Earani could do no wrong, so that the struggle for the world's future
must rest between him and Earani. Was it too late to prevent a
terrible catastrophe? In his mind was taking form a plan for sharing
the responsibility with someone better able to bear it.

His last interview with Earani had convinced him of the necessity for
action of some kind, and as he drove he turned the matter over in his
mind. He decided that he could no longer accept the confidence that
Alan gave him in allowing him to come and go at 'Cootamundra' as he
wished. He felt that he was bound to betray the promise he had made,
and it hurt him to meet his friend and feel that he was trusted, when
in his heart he knew he was ready to betray that trust. He knew that
if he warned Dundas, then Dundas would let Earani know, and after that
"Well, I doubt if Dun's intercession would save me from something
unpleasant," he said to himself. "Yes, Dick Barry, I think it very
possible indeed that you would get hurt."

And so the plan that was half formed in his mind took definite shape,
and so intent were his thoughts on the subject that even Madame
Kitty's cold and hostile indifference passed almost without notice
that day.




CHAPTER XXVI


THE back country of Australia carries men who are known from station
to station for some outstanding mental kink. The solitude of the
Never-Never breeds them, and when they foregather with their fellows
they become an institution, humorous or aggravating, according to the
form the kink has happened to take.

There is a son of Anak, otherwise sane, who wanders through the
country, and who has become a joy to every camp and shed beyond the
Murray, where his search for work has led him. He has a story to tell,
and sore experience has taught even the toughest of his auditors to
accept that story without question, at least in the presence of the
narrator thereof. The story never varies in so much as one amazing
detail, and woe betide the luckless one who ventures to cast a doubt
upon it.

"I was working' down from the shearin' through Glen Cairn way for the
hop pickin'. Keepin' off the main road, too. There was crowds of
blokes goin' that way, and the cockies was shy in passin' out the
tucker. A few miles out of Glen Cairn one afternoon I noticed a house
a bit off the road, and thought I'd word 'em for a bit of scran. It
was a fair-sized place, and when I got to the back there was no one in
sight, so I goes round the front and drops Matilder when I seen the
front door was open. I walks to the verandah, and 'ad 'ardly put one
foot on it when I got the start of me life. Struth! I thought I was
seeing' things when that tart showed up. She walks out of the 'ouse,
and stands lookin' me over, and I stands lookin' her over, like I was
a stuck pig. Ye never even began to think of anything like her. Take
all the bonzer tarts yer ever 'eard of and roll 'em into one, and yer
ain't even beginnin' to get near what she looked like. She was pretty
near as big as me, and she was dressed rummy-lookin'. And 'er hair--
struth! It was fallin' down in front of her, damn near to 'er feet.
Most amazin'. But it wasn't that. It was 'er face that gave me the
knockout. Wat's the use in tryin' to tell youse blokes. You'd never
understand in yer natural--never--Struth! I could a just stood and
looked at 'er for a year. Well, there was me standin' starin', and she
lookin' me over quiet, like as though I was a surprise to 'er, and
after a minute she says, 'What are you?' Just as though she thought I
might be a bandicoot or a gohanna for all she knew. So I pipes up and
asks if the boss is at 'ome. So 'elp me cat! She says: 'What is the
boss?' like as though she 'ad never 'eard the word. O' course I
spotted that she was a bit ratty--ratty! My Gawd! If I'd only 'ad
enough sense to get away then. Ratty! Anyhow I says to her that I just
come to see if she could give a bloke a bit o' tucker, hadn't had a
feed since the mornin'. She thinks a minute, lookin' at me queer, and
says, 'You want food?' 'That's it, missus,' I said, brightenin' up; 'a
bit of mutton and some flour, anything 'andy.'"

"She thinks a bit more, and says, 'I'm alone here; the owner of the
house is away. I cannot give you food.' Well, that made me a bit wild,
'cause what's a bit of tucker to these cockies? So I thought I might
as well 'elp myself; there's no harm in that. So I says to 'er: 'You
look 'ere, missus, I want tucker, and I'm goin' to have it, so just
you pass it out, or I'll bloomin' well take what I want--so git a move
on.' O' course, I wasn't meanin' 'er any harm; it was just bluff.
Cripes! But it was rummy. She just stood quiet, lookin' at me, not a
bit put out or scared, and that made me feel all the more certain she
was ratty. But what took the bun was what she says next. Says she,
'Tell me, do you vote in the elections for your country's
legislators?' It fair took me breath away. Vote--me vote? Me with me
name on four rolls between Ballarat and Bourke. I just laughed until I
couldn't laugh any longer. Then I says: 'Well, you are a peach,
missus. You pass out the tucker, and then we'll talk politics, and I
think I'll take one little kiss into the bargain. Course I never meant
any 'arm to 'er; but she was a bonzer peach. I just took one step up
to 'er, when she puts out 'er 'and straight in front of me, and says,
'Stop!' And the rummy part of it was, though I didn't mean to stop, I
did, and she just stood starin' at me with 'er eyes lookin' big and
shiny, till I felt cold all over, and then, strike me pink! all of a
sudden I began to feel scared. Cripes, it was like 'avin' the horrors.
But she never says another word, but goes into the house, and comes
out again in a minute with a damn great green-hide whip. I wanted to
make a bolt for it. I'd a given fifty quid to get away. Course, I
thought she was goin' to lay into me with the green-hide, but she just
chucked it down at my feet most contemptuous. Then she goes and sits
in a chair in the verandah and looks me over for a bit. You'd never
'ave thought such a bonzer tart could look the way she did at me.
Struth! before I knew where I was I was sweatin' all over. Then she
says, quiet like--and that was the worst of it, she was so quiet,
never raises 'er voice a bit--she says, 'It is in my thoughts to kill
you, but I will leave a mark so that you will remember. Pick up that
whip', she says, pointin' to the whip. I'd a given a quid not to. I
wanted to talk back, but all I did was to pick up the whip. Then she
says, Now you will beat yourself till I tell you to stop.' Cripes! you
blokes needn't laugh like that. Gawd! but I wish any of yer had been
there but me. I know what you think--that I was shikkered. So 'elp me
cat! I'd not 'ad a drink for days, and any'ow, a bloke might go and
toush 'is mate when he was boozed, but 'e don't go 'ammerin' hell out
of hisself with a damn green-hide like I did. Struth! but I did; look
'ere, if yer don't believe me." And here the indignant narrator would
show a hairy leg scarred and scarified with pink weals against dirty
white, or to convince a doubter would roll up his shirt to show his
flanks and hips scored deep with bluish corrugations. Then he would
continue.

"It fair took the cake. There was the tart sittin' in the chair,
'ardly takin' the trouble to look at me, and there was me standin'
there layin' into myself with the whip like all possessed. I fair cut
the togs off myself, and the blood was runnin' down me legs, and I
couldn't 'elp 'owlin' a bit, for that damn whip curled round me every
time it 'it. Struth! but it must a looked comical. I'd got a new pair
of moles on. I'd paid a bloke up the road three 'alf-crowns for 'em,
and I cut 'em pretty near to rags. Oh, yes! you laugh, yer cows. It
wasn't nothin' to laugh at. An' all the time that bloomin' tart was
leanin' back in 'er chair not takin' any more notice than if I'd been
ten miles away. At last she looks round and says, 'Stop, now.' Cripes,
it was about time, too; I was all out. Then she asked where I was
makin' for, and I says to Glen Cairn. Damn civil I was, too; she 'ad
me scared stiff. With that she get up, and, lookin' at me with 'er big
shiny eyes, says, 'You will go now, and you will run, and you will not
stop running until you get to Glen Cairn, and you will come here no
more.' She might 'ave left out the last part, any'ow. The minute she
speaks off I starts, but she stopped me and says, 'Take that,'
pointin' to Matilder. So I picks up the bluey and off down the track
without look-in' back. Mind yer, I tell yer I was all out from the
'ammerin' I'd give meself. But for all that I ran, and, by Gawd, I
went on runnin'. Don't know 'ow far it was, but I was staggerin'
along, and fallin' down, an' pickin' meself up, and runnin' again, and
before I got to Glen Cairn I found the runnin' was worse than the
hidin' I'd got. It was after dark when I got there, and I was
staggerin' all over the road, when a police sergeant cops me. Course
he thought I was shikkered, too; but when 'e seen me face and the
blood on it under a lamplight he takes me up to the hospital. Well,
when I gets there they wants to know 'ow I got meself into such a 'ell
of a state, and I was too sick and too silly to tell 'em anything but
the truth, and, of course, the bloomin' doctor reckons I'd got the
fantods. That made me blasted wild, I tell yer, but what made me worse
was another doctor comes in--a big, red-headed, freckled bloke--and 'e
made me tell the yarn over again. An' what do yer think? Why that
bloke just sits down and laughs till the tears is runnin' down his
cheeks. I told 'im straight I'd like to stoush 'im, but 'e doesn't
take any notice, and calls the other doctor aside, and they 'as a yarn
on the quiet, and after that they puts me to bed.

"I was in that bloomin' horspital for over two weeks. But it was
bloomin' rummy. The mornin' I left the other doctor (the red-headed
one) comes in and makes me tell the yarn again, and when I'd finished
'e says, pretty serious, 'Now, you, look here. I know that yarn's
true; and let me tell you you're damn lucky to get off so light. You
take my advice and don't go tellin' it any more round these parts,
though, because they'll only think you're ratty, same as they do now
in the horspital'; and then 'e gave me a couple of sovereigns, and
told me I'd better keep away from the house where the tart lived or it
might be worse next time. So I asked 'im what sort of a bleedin' idiot
'e took me for. Why, I wouldn't go within a mile of that place if yer
gave me a thousand quid. But, cripes! she was a bonzer tart."




CHAPTER XXVII


THE month that Earani stipulated before the search for Andax commenced
was passing swiftly. Dundas used the interval for making all necessary
arrangements of his private affairs for an absence that might be
prolonged or brief as circumstances fell out. He found it imperative
that he should leave 'Cootamundra' occasionally, but the greater part
of his time was passed with Earani.

They prepared for their journey by hours of work in the great
machinery gallery, where, under Earani's supervision, they gathered
together for removal to the surface the parts of the vessel that would
bear them to their destination. It was a task that fascinated and
bewildered Dundas. It seemed to him that the vessel itself was one of
the greatest wonders of the gallery. When completed, she would be over
a hundred feet long, yet each part was so made that it could be easily
handled by two people, and with a little difficulty, by one, if
necessary. Its torpedo-shaped hull was a marvel of enormous strength,
combined with lightness. The plans of the completed vessel showed no
propellers, nor, indeed, any projection outside the hull. The power
generators occupied only a fraction of the interior space. Earani
showed Dundas how the pull of gravitation from the earth was first
neutralised until the hull and contents, weighing perhaps eighty tons,
could be lifted by one hand, and then the attractive force from bodies
millions of miles away from the earth's orbit was used to obtain both
vertical and lateral movement, so that almost incredible speeds could
be obtained--speeds that were only limited by the heating of the
vessel through atmospheric friction. She demonstrated how they would
speed on their journey at the rate of about three hundred miles an
hour, and how special vessels built to reduce the friction on the hull
could be sent flashing through the air at almost twice that speed.

Best of all, she showed him how to adjust to his body the specially
made machines that, fitted to chest and back, enabled him to fly
birdlike round the galleries. Perhaps "birdlike" is a somewhat
inaccurate description, for his first attempts in the air were
somewhat akin to a skater's first attempts on the ice. That he flew
was true; to say that he flew with either grace or comfort would be
wide of the mark, and with Earani floating beside him in his sprawling
progress, they made the galleries ring with unrestrained mirth. But
with infinite patience she taught him how to poise his body for the
flight, and how, with a touch of his fingers, to counteract any
unexpected stress or strain, until with their hands locked they were
able to sway together from the ground and float from gallery to
gallery with perfect ease. At the same time, she forbade him any
attempt to use the new-found sport above ground until she would be
able to escort him. There was no fear of failure once he left the
ground; the danger lay for the novice in getting beyond control, and
being snatched to levels above the earth's surface, where intense cold
and thin atmosphere would be fatal before help, even if it were
available, could reach him. The principal work connected with the
airship was carried out in the galleries, and all the parts were
assembled and tested, so that when the time came for them to start, it
would take not more than a day to bring the material to the surface,
and but little longer to put it together.

They had already decided on the day on which they would start, and
Earani had spent no little time immersed in calculations over maps and
charts, until at length she called Alan to her side. Before her was
spread a map of Northern India, and on it she had marked a tiny red
cross on which she put her pencil point.

"Alan," she said, looking at him, "if your maps are true, that red
cross marks our destination. Look, 36 deg. 32 min. north and 74 deg.
18 min. east. Do you know anything of the country?"

Dundas bent over the map and sighed. "Faith, Earani, I could have
wished that your friends had chosen another spot. Yes, I know a little
of it. It is one of the wildest and most desolate countries in the
world: almost unknown, and such inhabitants as are there are about the
most savage and uncivilised on earth. It is in the heart of the
world's most mountainous country. The elevation will be over twenty
thousand feet amongst eternal snow." He paused and looked over the
map carefully. "I should say it is about fifty miles north from
Gilgit. Our people may have an outpost at that place. I think they
have. I know we have been fighting in that country during the past
decade, but it is a terrible country. Why did they select such a
spot?"

Earani smiled. "The spot has become what it is since he was put there.
In our time it was an easily accessible plateau. Things have happened
since then. I remember it as one of the most populous parts of the
world with a most perfect climate." She folded the map and put it
aside. "However, it makes no difference. It may mean a few hours,
delay, and he has waited so long."

"Are you absolutely sure, Earani, that your calculation is correct?"
asked Dundas.

She nodded emphatically. "So sure that I will be able to land exactly
on the spot, and even if we were a little at fault, this," and she put
her hand on an instrument beside her, "would detect the fault and
rectify it for us."

She lay back on her couch. "We must make the most of our ease now,
Alan, for we have some hard days before us."

He laughed. "The prospect doesn't seem to worry you much. Most
wonderful! The women that I know would be rather scared of such an
undertaking."

"Why should I worry?" she answered. "Indeed, I'm looking forward to
it. Think, for the first time since I've known him Andax will be in
the position of being my pupil, and will be obliged to learn from me.
If you knew him as well as I do you would see how humorous that will
be." She laughed lightly. "He won't like it a bit, but he won't show
it."

Dundas looked at her reflectively. "And how long, Earani, will your
superiority last?"

She pursed her lips thoughtfully. The action was too tempting for
Dundas to pass it unnoticed, and he moved towards her with intention,
to be waved away unceremoniously. "Go away, bad man! How can I think
when you distract me like that? No--sit still." He obeyed reluctantly.
Then she went on, "My superiority will last perhaps two months,
perhaps three, but not much longer. After that--well, Andax will know
more, perhaps, than the two of us put together. But sufficient unto
the day. I will have had my little triumph." She looked across at him
smiling, and relented, and at the glance he flew to her. She made a
place for him beside her, and he bent over fondly.

"Sometimes, dear one, it makes my heart stand still to think how
easily I could have missed you," he said, holding her hands in his.
"It was a mere chance that I started to dig where I did. Indeed, at
first I meant to start much further away."

Her big, grave eyes looked up into his. "It was written, Alan. You of
all men were chosen. It had to be so."

"Listen," he said, "and I will tell you a tale they tell to children";
and he told her the old, old story of the Sleeping Beauty and how the
Prince came in the end. "I think," he said, "that that story was in my
mind when I first stood beside you, dear heart; and yet--" he paused.

"And yet?" she asked mockingly.

"I have thought sometimes, supposing I had missed you, and another had
come. Supposing you had been found, not by me, but if the world were
different, and someone had come of a race unfitted to be helped. The
danger could not have been foreseen. What then? Oh! I know I am
absurd. But if--"

She drew one hand from his clasp and let it fall over the edge of the
couch. "Such a risk was foreseen and guarded against. Look beside you,
Alan."

He turned and looked. Where her hand had rested a small panel, a few
inches square, had opened in the side of the couch. "What is it?" he
asked, looking round at her.

She smiled up at him, her hand still resting beside the opening. "Can
you see anything there, Alan?" she asked.

"Just a disc and a button," he answered.

She nodded her head, "Just a disc and a button, as you say; but," she
slipped the panel closed again, "do you know what would happen if my
finger pressed that button?"

He shook his head. "Can't guess," he answered

"Well," she went on, "high above our heads, in the body of the sphere,
are two cisterns filled with fluid. If I pressed that button, the
contents of the two cisterns would drop into a third, and the moment
they did the whole sphere would be transformed into a molten mass,
with everything it contained. It would be over in a second."

Dundas recoiled, "Good Heavens, Earani, why?"

She answered thoughtfully, "Just for the reason you have given. It was
recognised that everything here under certain conditions might have
proved a curse rather than a blessing when the time came. To each of
us the right was given, that if when we woke from our sleep we judged
that it would be better, then we might resign our trust and our life
together."

"And you would have done it?" he asked.

She nodded in answer. "Far rather that way, than have what is here
fall into the hands of the unfit. Indeed," and she paused thoughtfully,
"if Andax or I were not here to guide, it would be better if
everything went. Your world is not ready to use with wisdom all of
what is hidden here."

"You have a poor opinion of us, Earani," he said smiling.

She answered gravely. "No, I have not really. There is very much here
that I know would be used wisely and well, but again there are other
things that might be misused. Take, for instance, that cylinder that
did so much damage in the machinery gallery. Ah! Alan, that time you
missed death by a very little. Now, although that was first invented
for us as a weapon of warfare, it subsequently became one of our
greatest engineering assets. It could be used for the purpose of
excavating canals and similar works. If properly used it would do more
work in a day than your engineers could carry out in a year, or
perhaps two, but it could still be used as a weapon."

"And as a weapon?" asked Dundas.

"It could be made to devastate a country for a radius of a hundred
miles, and not only would it blot out all living things, but it would
leave the country it covered a blackened desert. It was called in our
language by a word that means 'the devastator' in yours. Tell me,
Alan, would you like the secret of such an engine to become the
property of any nation in your world?" Dundas shook his head. "No,
that is unthinkable. At the first quarrel one or all would use it."

"So you see," Earani went on, "it would be better to lose all than to
run a risk of that kind unless there were a power to check the
dangerous element amongst you, and that is only one instance. There
are a score of things in the galleries that might be misapplied just
as disastrously. To be of any use their secret must be more or less
widely known, and without the guiding hand the whole race might be
easily obliterated."

Dundas was silent for a while. "No doubt you are right, Earani. It
would be a catastrophe to entrust such powers as you speak of to any
one people or to all without some restraining influence. The
temptation to bid for supremacy would be irresistible if the powers
were held by one people, and if by two or more it would amount to the
obliteration of any two that quarrelled."

"So you see, Alan, that the sacrifice of all that is here would not be
too great to prevent such a thing happening. However, thank goodness,
the responsibility will be on the shoulders of Andax before long. And
now, dear one, I am going to ask you a question. What is troubling
you?" She held a finger to his lips to check a denial. "Listen; you
went into Glen Cairn two days ago; since then you have had something
on your mind. What?"

Dundas laughed. "You--What shall I say, most wonderful? I shall have
to walk circumspectly when we are married. I flattered myself that my
general behaviour did not show that I was annoyed, and yet you knew
all the time."

She nodded smiling. "It did not need any magic to find that out. Tell
me?"

He looked at her thoughtfully. "Could you find out if I did not tell?"
he asked.

"I could, of course, but I would not unless you gave me permission,"
she answered.

"Then I do give you permission," he said.

She took his hand in hers, and looked into his eves a moment before
she spoke. "So," she said at length, "it is Dick, and I was right."

"Yes, it is Dick. I cannot understand him. I went to get his final
answer about coming with us. He refused."

"I expected it," she answered. "Did he give a reason?"

"He gave a reason," replied Dundas, "but I doubt if it were the real
one. Dick has changed." He paused.

"Tell me what passed between you," she asked.

"I went to him at the hospital. When I told him that I must know then
if he intended to come with us, he at first asked me to give up the
idea. I told him our plans were fully made, and I could see no reason
for altering them. Then he said that he had work in hand that would
prevent him from joining us at present. He could get no one to relieve
him. He seemed to evade my questions about the work, and in the end I
felt that what you said was right--that he was hostile to our going."

Earani listened with interest. "Yes, I was right, Alan. I have felt
the hostility to me for a long time. Dick would tie my hands if he
only knew how. But he has a vague idea of my powers, and he cannot
think of a way out. We need not worry. If he cried all he knows to the
world he could do nothing. But he might cause us trouble by forcing me
to show unmistakably how helpless he is. It would not suit my plans to
use force at present to exact obedience from him or from any authority
he might attempt to put into action."

Dundas interrupted. "We have his word, Earani, and I do not think for
a moment that Dick will break his pledge. He doubts, perhaps he fears
Andax. But I cannot doubt his loyalty."

"Ah, well, Alan, we need not trouble. I am sorry, for I liked Dick.
Perhaps later he will understand. Remember, he has only been here
twice since the day I went to Glen Cairn, and I do not think that
public opinion has kept him away. Still," and she paused, turning the
question over in her mind, "I will watch, nevertheless. I do not want
trouble just yet. Let us go to the river for a while. I tire of being
so much away from the world."




CHAPTER XXVIII


IT was a soft, clear moonless night that found the two strolling
slowly towards the timber that fringed the river. Earani turned her
eyes upward. "It has changed very little, Alan, since I saw it last;
see, there is the Red Planet. It must be a very old world now, and a
very wise world. Do its people still call to yours, I wonder?"

"Call to us? How?"

"We used to talk to them once," Earani replied. "It was they who first
warned our world of the catastrophe impending, long before we would
have been able to foretell it."

"But how could they talk to you?" Dundas reiterated.

"Have you ever heard of coloured lights in the skies at either pole?"
asked Earani.

"You mean auroras?"

"Perhaps. The lights I mean show at nights in masses of ever-changing
colours, and appear generally at both North and South Pole. That was
how the Red Planet spoke to us."

"We have known them for many centuries," answered Dundas; "but they
have always been a mystery. But why do they show almost always at the
poles where there are so few to see them? Perhaps if they had been
more familiar we would have understood."

"They used the Poles because of the long periods of darkness," replied
Earani. "Yes, it is strange to think that all these millions of years
they have known of the overwhelming of the old world, and have been
trying to mend the broken link in the chain. They knew a new race
would be built up, and the time would come when someone would
interpret their signals. Before long we will be able to answer them,
and learn how they stand. But I fear it will be a sad story, for they
were a great people, and they must be near the end now."

They had come to the fallen tree that had been their resting place
ever since the great night of their lives. For a long time they sat
side by side in silence, for there was little need of words between
them. It was Dundas who spoke first. "If the sky is unchanged, Earani,
what of the earth?"

"That was in my mind at the moment, Alan," she answered. "I wish I
could make you see it here as I once saw it." Then, after a pause, she
went on: "It was on such a night as this in the long ago I stayed here
with two others, waiting to hear our fate. Think, Alan...We were on
the edge of a great valley, perhaps ten miles across, and through the
valley ran a broad river to the sea. Even from where we sat we could
trace its course, and all across the valley were dotted lights, and
just behind us towered the black mass of the great sphere on its
pedestal, nearly two thousand feet above us. But we thought very
little of it. Our thoughts were turned to one light across the valley
brighter than all the rest. The light came from the great council hall
where they were making the final choice of those who would stay
behind. Word had come that Andax had already been selected. There were
two others still to be named, and we knew that of we three two would
be chosen. Which two? For my part, I prayed that the lot would not
fall to me. What the others thought as they waited there I do not
know. One was the girl friend of my life. Alan, you say that I am
beautiful; you should have seen her to know what beauty means." He
laughed lightly, bending his lips to her hand. "I am well content,
dear one."

"But it is true, Alan," she went on. "The other was her lover.
Strange, was it not? They knew the world was on the verge of
destruction, but they did not fear death, so they went together. They
feared that one should be called on to stay behind when the other
died. And so we three waited. There had been six left for final
choice. Andax had been already chosen, as I told you before. Two
others had been stood aside, and now the time must be near when the
summons would come.

"It seemed so long in coming. I sat a little apart from the others,
and every now and again I heard whispered hope pass between them. But
the world seemed very still Then I saw a tiny star separate itself
from the lighted council hall, and I knew. Marnia, my friend, stood up
and called to me, 'He is coming, Earani,' and we watched the star grow
brighter as it floated to us across the valley, until the messenger
stood before us. He brought us the order to appear before the council.
We three knew that the messenger had heard the decision, but we did
not dare to question him. Together we sprang from the ground and
followed him, flying with locked hands through the quiet darkness."

"I can never forget the scene in the council chamber. There were our
greatest and wisest waiting our coming to take our stand before them.
My mother was amongst them, and the sadness in her eyes is with me
yet. I knew many of them personally, and the old president had been
one of my first teachers. Of all the faces those two stood out, and
one more. That one was Andax, standing beside the president's dais
smiling cynically at me. Then the names were announced, mine first,
and my heart sank a little. I was proud to be chosen, but I knew then
why the mother eyes were so sad. Then the next name, Marnia. I turned
to her, but the agony in her eyes cut me to the heart. Her arm was
flung about the lover who stood beside her, and she faced the council
as though about to speak. But my voice was raised before she could
find words, and I begged them to take the two and leave me. But the
President shook his head. The council had finally decided that I must
stay. Then it was that Marnia broke from her lover and flung herself
on her knees before them all. No human heart could withstand the
splendid appeal she made to wait the end and death together with the
man she loved. And in the end they yielded and gave them freedom, and
the choice of the council fell on one of the others who had been stood
aside."

"It was fine of them to grant her appeal," said Hundas.

"Yes," answered Earani: "I feared they would not, but the President
was a descendant of the old doctor, and his heart was in the right
place, and his voice was raised for them. Oh, but I was glad, for
their sakes."

"And what happened then, beloved?" asked Alan.

"Then before we left that night we three who were chosen took the
solemn oath of obedience to the charge that was laid upon us. That we
should not swerve or flinch from the duties laid down for us should
the time ever come when we should wake to the world again. That no
thought of self or lust of power should turn us from teaching the laws
and truths of our race to the race to come. Our lives were held and
dedicated to that one sacred trust.

"It seemed to me that night, when those vows were taken, that I was a
being apart. None could foresee where that event would lead us. We had
all for a long time been trained to the duties that would be ours; but
I never realised before the solemnity of it all until I heard the
charge laid on us by the president before he gave us the final
benediction of the race that was to die. For myself, I felt no shadow
of fear, but a terrible sorrow caught my heart to think that our world
and all I loved upon it must so surely perish utterly. When I left the
council hall that night with my mother, Marnia was waiting for me with
her lover, and begged that I would permit her to be with me until the
time came."

"Had you long to wait, dear heart?" asked Alan, moved by the sorrow in
her voice.

"Two days, Alan, just two days. You see, towards the end they feared
that the blow might fall sooner than they expected. The three great
spheres were ready for us, and delay might spell disaster. On the
third day I surrendered myself to the council, and at the hour of noon
we left the council hall and flew across the valley to the sphere that
was to be my living tomb. I remember now how the sight of the valley
touched me as we went. The air was thronged by countless thousands
waiting to see us pass, and, as we floated slowly through, the sound
of their voices raised in greeting and farewell echoed like thunder
from the hills. And at the doorway of the sphere stood Andax. As we
passed he held out his hand to me. 'Sister and comrade--to our next
meeting'; and he raised my hand to his lips, and for once the cynical
smile had gone. 'To our next meeting, Andax. I shall not be the one to
fail you.' He laughed. 'The council could not have chosen better. Are
you content?' I smiled up at him as I turned to enter the doorway.
'Ask me that when we meet again,' I said; and the last I heard was his
laughter as we went down the stairway."

"He didn't seem to worry much, but it must have been a terrible ordeal
for you, Earani?" said Dundas.

"Oh, to Andax it was a splendid experiment. If it failed, well, he
died, and that was the end of it. If it succeeded, he would have a new
world to play with. Could one of his breed ask for a better fate? No.
I dare say that Andax gave not a single thought of regret for the
world he was so soon to leave; beyond that, he would not be there to
study its destruction as it happened."

"And you?" asked Dundas.

"I felt no fear for myself," Earani went on. "Death was nothing. But
it was heart-breaking to leave behind so much and so many I loved.
There were very few with me at the end--my mother and Marnia, and the
President of the Council, with two or three others, who were to
complete the work and close my sleeping place. The couch was ready for
me, and we had said our farewells. All was done swiftly. Just as I was
stepping to the couch Marnia took a flower from her hair and placed it
in my hand. It was a blossom of the Earani, 'the flower of life,' that
gave me my name. It was called so because it remained fresh and
fragrant for many years after it had been plucked from its stem. As I
lay down she smiled on me through her tears, and closed my fingers
over the blossom. 'Keep the flower in your hand, beloved, and when
next your eyes are opened look first at it, and if it is faded then
you will know that we, too, have gone.' Then she stood aside, and I
took from my mother's hand the draught that brought oblivion. I can
just remember her bending over me as I sank back, and I could feel
Marnia throw the robes across my feet, and then darkness fell."

"And that was all until you woke and saw us there beside you? Were you
not frightened then?" asked Dundas.

She passed her arm about his neck and pressed her face to his
tenderly. "No, I was not afraid. At first I could not grasp it all.
You remember how I looked at my hand. There was nothing left of the
blossom but a dark stain on my palm. I could not realise it, for at
the time it seemed but an hour since Marnia had placed it there. But
the truth was driven home when I found that one sphere was wrecked,
and when those dials in the cabinet told me how long I had waited for
my waking."

"And still you did not fear, brave one?"

"When I looked into your eyes as you spoke to me, Alan, I knew that I
had nothing to fear from you, and perhaps--" She paused.

"And perhaps?" he asked.

"I won't tell you," she laughed. "It would only make you conceited."
But tell him she did in the end, and before they parted at the
homestead that night, and a sweeter confession never fell from woman's
lips.




CHAPTER XXIX


SIR MILES GLOVER sat in the Prime Minister's room at the Federal
Parliament House. Beside the Prime Minister stood his secretary.

"I thought you had better see it," said the secretary, and as Sir
Miles only pinched his shaven chin and stared at the opposite wall, he
went on, "It reads like another lunatic in places, and yet--" He
stopped and looked down at the quiet figure of his chief, who had bent
to re-read the letter on the table before him.

"And yet--there's a distinct trace of method in the madness. Still,
you'll remember that your friend, who announced himself as the
Messiah, wrote an excellent letter." Sir Miles looked up as he spoke,
and the secretary looked away, for he did not like to be reminded of
that episode. "I'm afraid," the Prime Minister went on, and there was
a shadow of a smile at the corners of the straight mouth, "that the
Archbishop has never quite forgiven my passing him along. Really,
he should have been grateful for an opportunity to investigate the
matter. Still, as you say, there may be something in this. Have you
spoken to Professor Gordon?'

"No," answered the secretary, "I thought if you wished to go further
into the matter you might like to speak to the professor yourself."

Sir Miles nodded. "Very well, get him for me now." The secretary took
up the desk telephone, and the Prime Minister stared thoughtfully at
the letter.

"Here he is now," said the secretary presently, and passed the
receiver over.

Said Sir Miles, "Hello! is that you, Ginger?" and an irreverent small
voice answered back, "'Tis I, Smiler; how goes the ship of State?"
There were few men who would have cared to address Professor Gordon,
plus quite a lot of the alphabet, as "Ginger," and still fewer who
would have cared to address Sir Miles Glover as "Smiler."

This is what the secretary heard:--"The ship of State is making bad
weather--no, not as bad as the press would have you believe. We'll ride
the session out. No; I don't know that you could help much. It would
create rather a bad impression if I arranged with you to poison a few of
the opposition. Three or four hundred years ago, and--perhaps. Ah, well,
it's gone out of fashion. Truth? I daren't. They might indulge in
reprisals--Ginger, consider the effect on the electors if the truth were
told about any of us. Well, perhaps you're right, they would not believe
it. No--I wanted to know if you are acquainted with a man named--wait a
moment--a man named Richard Barry, M D., of Glen Cairn. At least, I
think that's it; he writes an appalling fist--Ah--I see--pretty
levelheaded? No traces of insanity, for instance? Well, he has written
for an interview--wants it urgently. Extremely mysterious. No hint of
his reasons. You see I'm too busy to be bothered by cranks, but there's
something about this letter that seems genuine--ah, you would? Well,
yes. He referred me to you...Begged I would communicate with you before
refusing to see him. All right, Ginger, and I'll scalp you if he turns
out a fraud or a bore--I'm rather out of practice, but I'll give you a
round on Sunday. Yes, thanks, she's well. Good-bye."

He hung up the receiver and turned to the secretary, who was standing by
silently, "Very good. Wire this man and tell him I will see him at two
o'clock tomorrow. No, there's nothing else just now." The secretary
turned away, and as he reached the door, Sir Miles looked up from his
papers. "Oh! tell him to be punctual," and before the door had closed he
was deep in his work again.

That same afternoon Barry reached his home after a weary round. Madam
Kitty, all concern for his welfare, met him in the doorway. "Very
tired, Dick?" she asked. Barry laughed lightly. "I've felt fresher in
my time, Kit. Anything turned up?"

"Come and have a cup of tea first," she answered, It was a rule of
Kitty's that her man should have his tea in the afternoon, unworried,
and it was not until he had finished that she placed a telegram in his
hand. "This came just before you got back."

Barry opened the message. "Sir Miles Glover will see Doctor Barry at
two to-morrow afternoon, twenty-third. Please be punctual." Dick read,
and handed the paper across to Kitty. She read the paper, and looked
over at him, her eyes two big notes of interrogation.

"Listen, Kit. There's something very wrong going on. I've not worried
you with it. In fact, I couldn't very well. I wrote to the Prime
Minister, asking him for an interview, and that's the answer. I'm
going down to Melbourne by tonight's train, and you'll be the only one
who will know I have gone. But, little woman, there are most urgent
reasons (some day I'll tell you all about it) why my movements are to
be kept secret. I won't take the train at Glen Cairn; I'll drive down
to Ronga, and get it there. If you should be asked by anyone, mind,
even your dearest friend, I have been called to Ronga on an urgent
case." He took the telegram from her fingers, and slipped it into his
pocket wallet.

"But, Dick, may I not know?"

"Not just now, Kitty, for your own sake."

She rose swiftly, and went over to him. "Dick! There is some trouble,
some danger. Dick, what is it?"

He took her outstretched hands. "Trust me, Kitty. I don't think there
is danger, but there may be annoyance," he lied carefully. "It is
better at present that you know nothing, then you will not be
worried."

"How long?" she asked with a sigh.

"Oh! Cheer up, Kit. I'll be able to get the night train back to-morrow,
so I'll be here early on the following morning. Will that do, Storm
Bird?"

She smiled back at him. "I suppose it must, though I know you have had
loads on your mind lately."

"We'll let it go at that, Kit," he said lightly. "No one called?"

Whereat his wife sprang to sudden attention. "Oh, Dick, I'm positively
idiotic to have forgotten. Marian Seymour is here."

Barry looked round. "Here--where?"

"It was after the telegram came. Dick, she was looking wretched. She
asked for you, and seemed upset because you were away. She drove in,
so I persuaded her to have the horse put in the stable, and a little
while ago I managed to get her to lie down until you came back. She's
in the spare room."

"Is she ill?" asked Barry.

His wife looked at him a moment, and then looked away. "It's not fair
to give a girl away, Dick; anyway her complaint isn't recognisable by
the faculty. It's a broken heart, Dick. Oh! I should like to tell Alan
Dundas what I think of him."

"Steady, Kit; don't jump to conclusions. I know it's a bad business,
but Dundas is not so bad as you give him credit, or discredit, for. As
for the rest--well, a broken heart--" He broke off abruptly. "I'd
better see her at once."

"Here?" asked Kitty.

"No, bring her to the surgery," and Barry passed into the next room. A
few minutes later Kitty followed him, leading Marian, and then at a
glance from Dick, she disappeared, leaving the two together.

Barry placed the girl in a comfortable chair, and seated himself at
his table. He felt as he glanced at her that it was a case more for a
diplomat than a doctor. He saw that she was holding herself in hand,
and that the calm exterior covered a mental tempest. She kept her face
turned partly away, and her eyes were hidden by their long lashes, but
the dark shadows below them told their tale of sustained endurance.

"Marian," he said presently, "am I wrong in thinking that you want a
friend's advice rather than a doctor's?" She flashed a grateful glance
at him, and smiled faintly. "You see, Marian, we are used to hearing
things that are kept from even your nearest and dearest, and it helps
to make us wise. What can I do for you?"

She was silent a moment. "I told Kitty you were an understanding dear,
Doctor Dick, and I do want a friend's advice. I'm desperately
worried."

"Let's hear the trouble, Maid Marian, but take your time; there's no
need for hurry." He crossed over, and took a chair closer to her.

For a few minutes the girl seemed irresolute, then she spoke suddenly,
as though taking the plunge in desperation. "I wanted to talk to you
about Alan Dundas"--She broke off, but, gathering courage, went on
again. "I am terribly anxious about him. It's hard to explain to
anyone, but I feel that he is in some terrible danger. Oh! I am sure
of it. I've no right to interfere, and I don't know what you'll think
of me, Doctor Dick, but I feel that you know more than anyone else,
and you can guide me. Tell me, have you seen him lately?"

Barry took the outstretched, trembling hands in his strong grasp. "I
feared that was the trouble, Marian, and I don't know what to say to
reassure you. I have seen Alan quite recently, but I have not been to
'Cootamundra' for some time. I can tell you that up to a few days ago
he was safe and well."

She looked up at him suddenly. "Tell me, on your word of honour, that
you, too, are not anxious about him, and I will believe you."

Barry mentally anathematised the deadly intuition of the sex. There
was no evasion possible under the clear, steady eyes. Indeed, she did
not wait for an answer. "I knew it, and you fear because of that
woman. Oh! she is terrible. I hate her! I hate her!"

There was something deeper than mere jealousy in the outburst, and
Barry recognised the note. It was that of a woman in love at bay, and
fighting for the man she loved. He spoke gently. "One thing I can
assure you of, Marian, and that is that he is in no danger from her. I
know that she wishes for nothing but his welfare. How far her
influence may affect his future I cannot say, but I know she would not
willingly harm him."

The girl stood up and turned away. "Oh! Dick, I know you are right. I
know she loves him. I know he loves her, but it is her influence that
I fear." She sank into a chair by the table, and buried her face in
her hands, and a few minutes passed in silence that was broken by the
girl speaking suddenly and desperately. "Oh! why should I be ashamed
to say it? You must see it, Dick. I love him too. Don't think he is to
blame." Her words came in a torrent now that the barrier of reserve
had broken down. "He is not to blame. How could he help loving her?
How could any man help it? Oh! she is so beautiful; the most beautiful
thing God ever made, and the most evil. I feel it. Oh! Dick, what hope
had I to win him against her? And yet, Dick, he loved me, I know it,
before she came and took him from me, but for all that, if I thought
she would make him happy, I could stand aside and see them together,
and thank God that he was happy. Yes, Dick, though it would kill me, I
could stand aside, for I love him that much."

"Perhaps we are both wrong, Marian. I admit that I'm a little anxious,
but she cares for him very much, I know."

"Dick, I may as well tell you everything, but I'm afraid you'll think
my anxiety has affected my reason. But first tell me, who is she?
Where did she come from? You know, I am sure."

Barry looked at her in deep perplexity. How could lie explain?
Explanation at the moment was out of the question. "I'm afraid,
Marian, that the secret of her history is not mine to disclose; at any
rate, not now." He turned his eyes away from the searching gaze of the
girl.

She sighed and thought for a moment before she spoke. "Dick, I saw her
last night and spoke to her."

Barry sat erect in astonishment. "You have seen and spoken to her?" he
said incredulously. "Where?"

"In my own room at home," said the girl quietly. Then, mistaking the
expression in Barry's eyes, she protested: "Don't think I was
dreaming, Dick, or that I imagined it. She was really there."

Barry waved aside the protest. "I understand, Marian. Indeed I feel
sure you have not been dreaming. I was surprised for the moment that
she had gone to you. But--"

"But what?"

Barry smiled grimly. "It just occurred to me that it was folly on my
part to think that I could gauge either her motives or her intentions.
Tell me what happened."

The girl looked at him thoughtfully. "It is only because you know her
that I am telling you this. I would not dare to tell anyone else. Even
now, after I have thought it over quietly, it seems too fantastic to
be real. Last night it was late when I went to my room. You know our
house, with the French windows opening onto the verandah. I always
sleep with the windows open. I had put out my lamp, but there was a
night-light burning. For a long time I could not sleep. I was thinking
of that woman and who she could be. I think I must have dozed. You
know last night was dark, but very clear and calm. There was
absolutely not a breath of wind. Then suddenly I became wide awake.
One does sometimes, you know, without apparent cause. I did not move,
but lay quite still. Then--Dick--the curtains of my window moved, not
as in a draught, but as though someone had touched them. But I could
see through quite distinctly, and there was no one there. Then they
were drawn apart. Dick, it was just awful. I could see them gathered
together on each side as though two hands had caught them, and they
stood wide apart for, it seemed, an age. It was as though someone were
standing in the window holding back the curtain looking down at me.
But I could see distinctly, and there was nothing there. Then they
fell together again, but every nerve and fibre of me told me that
there was some being in the room."

"That was pretty awful, Maid Marian," said Barry quietly. "What did
you do?"

The girl gave a little shiver. "What could I do? I lay there looking
through my half-closed eyelids, and I seemed frozen. I didn't have the
strength to scream. It was too like a nightmare. Then--oh! Dick, tell
me that you believe what I am saying. I don't want to go on if you
think it was all nerves and imagination."

Barry patted her arm gently. "Tell me all, Marian. I understand. I
know it was all real."

She hesitated a moment. "Then, Dick, she suddenly appeared. One moment
the room was empty except for myself, and the next that woman was
standing beside my bed looking down at me." She stopped and looked at
him anxiously. "It happened just as I tell you, Dick."

Barry nodded. "I expected what you were going to say, Marian. I know
and understand. Go on."

"For a moment I was too astounded to move, though I knew in an instant
who she was. Then--it may seem strange to you--but all the fear
vanished. I think the only feeling I had was anger that she should
have dared to come to me like that. I didn't think to be amazed at how
she had come. It was just anger that she was there at all. I know I
started, and half sat up with my elbow on the pillow, looking at her.
And we just stayed like that for a minute without a word. Then she let
her hood slip back from her head, and I could see her quite distinctly
in the glow from the night-light." She stopped, and looked at Barry,
smiling faintly. "Women are queer creatures, Dick. I had seen her that
day on the tennis-courts, and I knew she was beautiful, and as I lay
there looking at her, one half of me was worshipping her for her
beauty, and the other half of me was hating her for it. Oh! Dick, she
looked perfectly lovely. I would not speak first. I waited for her.
She stood there looking at me with those big inscrutable eyes of hers
for so long before she spoke that I felt almost ready to scream; it
seemed as if she were staring into my very soul. Then she said very
quietly, as if it were merely a matter of no moment: 'I did not think
it possible for one woman to hate another as you hate me. I hoped we
might have been friends.' I was furious, Dick, because she seemed so
absolutely unmoved, but I think I spoke as quietly as she did when I
answered, 'You are right; I wish I could tell you how much I do hate
you.' And then she gave that slow, thoughtful smile of hers: 'Ah,
there is no need to try. I know; yes, I knew even better than you know
yourself. And yet I came as a friend.' It was queer, Dick, for I knew
she meant it when she said she came as a friend; yet that seemed to
make me even more angry. I wanted to hurt her. 'Do you fear that he
will leave you as he has left me? He will tire of your beauty. Have
you nothing else to offer him?' Dick, it was simply cattish, nothing
else, and I knew it while I spoke, and I felt mean."

Barry smiled and shook his head. "It would take heavier metal than
that to worry, her, Marian."

The girl was silent for a moment, and then said, wearily: "Oh, I knew
that at the time. She seemed so absolutely self-assured and aloof, I
felt as though she did not belong to this world, and I was a puny
mortal fighting an immortal." It was as well she did not see the look
on Barry's face as she said this. "But it didn't matter; she only
smiled again in that pitying way that hurt me more than if she had
struck me. Then she said, 'Even yet I am your friend, and I have come
to help you.' I said: 'You help! You! Can you give him back to me?'
Dick, it didn't occur to me till afterwards that I'd only seen her
once before for a few minutes, and that I'd never spoken to her
before, and yet, although no name was ever mentioned, we both
understood. She thought for a moment, and then she said: 'I could not
give him back. Always his memory of me would stand between you; but I
can make you forget. Yes, I can make you forget him and ease the pain
of memory. Although you hate me so.' I could take nothing from her,
not even that, and I felt sure that she could do as she said. I sat up
and faced her. 'No, I will have no gift of yours. Who you are or what
you are I cannot tell, but this I feel in my very soul, that you will
bring him evil and sorrow. His very love for you and yours for him
will wreck your lives. If I must live for ever in pain, I will do so
rather than take your friendship.'" Barry interposed gently, "Were you
wise to refuse, Marian? I know she could have done it."

The girl shook her head impatiently. "What does it matter. Dick? It is
over now. She--yes, I know she could. I knew what I had refused when I
looked up into her calm, lovely face. I knew she wanted to be my
friend; but I couldn't, I couldn't; and she only said, 'It is written.
I will go now, you poor foolish child,' and as she spoke she stepped
backwards to the window, and passed through the curtain, and I was
alone again." Then, after a pause, Marian went on again. "Dick, I
don't know what mystery surrounds that woman. I think you do; but this
I feel, that she is something to fear; something for Alan to fear,
too, instead of to love. Oh! Dick, can you not help me to get him away
from her--to help him?"

Barry shook his head sadly. "Marian, I wish I could help. But you must
believe me when I tell you we are both powerless. I cannot tell you
anything about her yet. Her story is incredible, but this you may
know, that to my mind she is more dangerous even than you can
imagine." He saw the look of pain in her eyes, and went on hastily.
"Not to Alan. I do not mean that, for I do not think she would harm
him; she cares too much for him. But the danger from her is for
others."

"Surely Alan can see it. Surely you can make him see it," she said
with a sob in her voice.

"Alan can see no wrong in her," said Barry, grimly. "You, who have
seen her, cannot wonder at that."

Marian smiled faintly. "The queen can do no wrong."

"Exactly," said Barry, emphatically. "The worst of it is that I know
that she would not hesitate to kill without mercy or scruple if she
should be interfered with, and that's why I feel anxious about you,
Marian, more so than for him. You must wait to see how things turn
out." He paused for a moment. "There is one chance, and I am going to
take it. I am telling you this because I know you won't repeat it,
because if you do it may cost me my life; but I will know on the day
after to-morrow; and I will see you again then. Until then you must be
patient." She looked at him anxiously. "Dick, may I not help? May I
not take this risk?"

He shook his head. "No, I must work alone. I can only ask you to be
brave, until I know the best or the worst."

"Would she really kill, Dick?" Marian asked, quietly.

Barry smiled. "I only tell you this because you know her--a little,
and I wish you to be forearmed. I know she would kill, if she thought
fit, and we are absolutely helpless against her. So, Marian, you must
wait; there is nothing else to be done. If you can help in any way I
will tell you."

The girl stood up. "It is good to talk it over with someone, Dick. I
could not go to mother, even, with this story."

"I'm afraid I've given you no comfort, Marian, but I want you to guard
yourself, and not do anything reckless. If anything comes of my plan I
will let you know."

They went into the next room, and Barry handed over his charge to
Kitty, and busied himself making his preparations for his journey.




CHAPTER XXX


ON the morning following at 'Cootamundra,' Dundas and Earani were
astir early. That day was to see the end of their preparation of the
galleries, and on the following day they were to bring the parts of
their airship to the surface to be assembled. Indeed, their
preparations were complete, and their work for the day was mainly one
of inspection and revision, to see that nothing necessary had been
forgotten.

When Dundas reached the "temple" Earani was already at work, and
greeted him gaily. On the table stood a large chest, in which she was
packing sundry phials and boxes, which, she told him, contained food
for two for a year. Not that it would be wanted, for there were ample
supplies in the other sphere, but they must leave nothing to chance.
Then she gave him a long robe to be worn over his clothes. It was made
of a very light, but thick, material. "Our journey will be a very cold
one, beloved, and that robe will be your protection. Put it on now,
and see what will happen." Obedient to her wish, he wriggled himself
into its soft folds, and in a moment stood before her transformed into
the likeness of a monk, even to the cowl which she drew over his head.
She looked at him, smiling, and said, "Now wait a few minutes," and as
he waited he found a warm glow set up through his body, that increased
every minute, until it became uncomfortably hot, and he was glad to
rid himself of it before he had worn it five minutes. "You will be
glad to wear it later, Alan. Indeed, our journey would be almost
impossible without these robes. The heat is caused by chemical action,
and with them we can defy the bitterest cold of those mountains, and
work in comfort and safety."

Dundas tossed the garment to a chair. "There is one thing you have not
told us, most wonderful," he said, taking her hand. "We will be away
from 'Cootamundra' for an indefinite time. How will you guard what we
leave behind? It would not do for intruders to find their way in
during our absence."

She nodded her head. "That is so, Alan, and I have not forgotten.
Come, and I will show you." She led the way to the machinery gallery,
where parts of the airship littered the gangways in apparent disorder,
and came to a halt before a pedestal bearing a metal box measuring
about a foot each way. Earani placed her hand upon it, and said, "It
doesn't look much, Alan, but this will be our watchdog, and not all
the armies in the world would overcome it without knowing its secret."
She raised the lid, and disclosed half-a-dozen screws and knobs
protruding from an inner cover. "It's merely a variation of the
gravity machine that will carry us to Andax. We will carry a similar
one with us, and leave this one in the shed on the surface. Before we
leave I will set it to a radius, of, say half a mile, and the one we
carry with us will be adjusted in the same manner."

"And then," asked Dundas, "what happens?"

"Just this. As our machine recedes from the one we leave behind, the
stationary one throws out a repelling force over the area to which it
is adjusted, and within the boundaries of that area no earthly force
could penetrate?" She paused as she saw the perplexity in Alan's face.
"It is difficult to make it clear, but it is as though the force of
gravity were inverted. A man, or a thousand men, could no more push
their way over the line of repulsion than they could spring into the
air and remain there, and the nearer the centre the more intense the
repulsion. There is nothing to see or feel. There is just an inert,
impalpable force that cannot be overcome until our machine again
neutralises it."

Dundas laughed lightly. "That will be something in the way of a
surprise for any unauthorised investigator, dear heart. Dick Barry,
for instance, would wonder what had happened if he tried to cross the
line in his motor-car during our absence. I must write and warn him."

Earani nodded, smiling. "Yes, you had better, though he would be more
surprised than hurt if he charged the line of resistance. In our time
the use of these repellers was forbidden by law except under certain
circumstances."

"But why?" asked Dundas.

"Well," she answered, "unless the spot were buoyed or marked there
would be nothing to show there was a repeller in action, and, with a
population that used the air to the extent that we did, an unmarked
area left too many openings for trouble. An airship travelling at
three hundred miles an hour would crumple up as if it had struck a
rock. So, you see, there was some necessity for restrictions." Dundas
smiled thoughtfully. "Yes; in that case Dick had better be warned; but
it would be rather interesting to watch someone trying to claw his way
through. However, it's a comfort to know we can leave the place
unguarded."

They turned away to their work, and it was after midday before they
returned to the "temple" for a rest. Earani had saved Alan the trouble
of bringing food with him when he spent the day in the sphere, for
their meal consisted of a tabloid or two, and he had become accustomed
to this unusual means of nourishment, though he could not reconcile
himself altogether to the absence of that feeling of good fellowship
that comes with the meal eaten in the company of a friend.

This day found them in thoughtful mood. When they reached the "temple"
Dundas went to a couch and drew Earani down beside him, and circled
her with his arms. For a long time they stayed in silence, cheek
pressed to cheek in a happiness so complete that neither cared to
break the spell. It was Earani who broke the silence at last. "If we
work very hard to-morrow, Alan, I think we will be able to leave on
the evening of the following day. In four days from today we should be
able to number Andax as a friend and an ally."

Dundas sighed. "I'm foolish, perhaps, heart's desire, but I fear that
unknown Andax. Fear, I mean, that he might come between us."

"Oh, foolish one, you are," she said, laughing. "He will need you
almost more than he will need me, and he dare not break the vow he is
under. Apart from that, he will need my help too much to come between
me and my desire." Her soft hand stroked his hair tenderly. "Andax
will regard our love, perhaps with cynical amusement, that would be
like him, but he will tolerate it for his own ends. Forget your fears,
Alan." She broke off suddenly and sat up. "Would you like to see him
now?" Dundas looked at her in perplexity. "No, Earani, how can I see
him now?"

"Oh! I can show him to you," she answered merrily. "I was looking at
him only yesterday. More magic--come, and we will inspect the great
Andax as he is waiting for us." She stood up and took his hand.
"Hurry! Hurry!" she went on, laughing like a school girl, and drew him
after her, through the vestibule to the third gallery. There she
paused before a great circular disc set in the wall. Below it was a
keyboard bristling with keys and levers. Between the disc and the
keyboard were set an array of staring dials.

Earani waved her hand towards the disc. "Now we will see some real
magic. Behold!" Her white hands fluttered over the keyboard and pressed
a gleaming button. In an instant the dark face of the disc vanished,
leaving a white polished metal surface in its place. She turned to him
smiling. "The window of the world, Alan. Now, watch." Her hand moved
swiftly here and there over the board. "Thirty-six, thirty-two north,
and seventy-four eighteen east," she said aloud. The metal surface
flashed into life, and blurred shadows danced across its surface. The
shadows took shape, and Dundas uttered an exclamation as he watched. It
seemed as if he were looking through a window into a new world; a world
of titanic desolation; mountains heaped on mountains of snow and ice.
There were cloud-swept peaks and snow-blocked ravines, and across them
all swept a devastating storm. Earani turned and smiled at him. "We will
need our warm robes, Alan. You were right about this place; Alan; it has
changed since I knew it."

"What is it?" he asked, bewildered.

"That is the spot where Andax lies," she answered. "Only he is
somewhere below; not far. Look where that roundness shows on the cliff
below. That is the side of the sphere that is only partly buried. Now
we will go deeper." Again her hands moved amongst the keys. This time
more delicately than before, and as she did so the disc darkened again
and again flashed into light.

"Now!" she exclaimed, "I have it. Watch!" The blurred shadows on the
disc took shape, indistinctly at first, as if in a lens out of focus.
Then the picture flashed clearly into view, and Dundas gave a gasp of
astonishment and was silent. Mirrored on the disc, so clearly that it
seemed as if they were looking through a sheet of clear glass, there
showed the interior of a great room. It was in many details similar to
the "temple" they had just left, but it was the "temple" as he had
first seen it. Right before them in the centre of the picture showed
the crystal dome, and beneath it a figure was lying enthroned. After
the first glance Dundas saw nothing but that still, majestic form.
Andax was lying with his head pillowed as had been Earani.

A crimson cover had been thrown across his body, but the arms lay
outside rigidly on either side. Naturally above ordinary height, he
seemed in his recumbent position a veritable giant. But it was the
likeness of his face to that of the statue in the vestibule that
appealed to Dundas most. There was the same high, round forehead and
thin, aquiline nose. There was the straight, almost lipless mouth and
the square, firm chin. But seen in the flesh, even lying as though in
death, the figure before him filled Dundas with awe. There was about
it an indescribable air of majesty and power. Dundas realised, the
longer he stood there, that in the face of Andax was intensified every
feature of his ancestor that bespoke immense, almost immeasurable,
intellectual force.

When Dundas spoke at last it was in a whisper, as if he feared that
his voice might break in on the rest of the still form before him.
"Oh, Earani, he is wonderful beyond words. What a man! What a man!"

She smiled and nodded. "No need to tell whose blood he bears, Alan.
Eukary arranged that one branch of his line should be kept pure. If
one wanted proof of how our race bred itself one need only point to
the statue and then to Andax."

Alan answered, still almost in a whisper: "No doubt of that, but he is
a greater man than Eukary."

"Yes, Alan, twenty generations better and finer. The brain is bigger
and better, but--" She paused.

"Well?" he asked, his eyes still on the figure beneath the dome.

"We found that in breeding to a line like that"--she nodded towards
the recumbent figure--"what we gained in one direction we lost in
another."

Dundas turned to look at her. "Lost, dearest? What was lost?"

Earani thought for a moment, and then said, slowly: "You would call it
soul; we had a word that meant 'spirit force.' They became more and
more human machines. Magnificent, but had our world lasted longer, I
think the line would have been broken. There was a point beyond which
we dared not take it. He"--she waved her hand towards the disc--"he
could control himself. Perhaps in a generation more the mere machine
would have been stronger than the spirit."

"And then?" asked Dundas.

"And then it would have been better for all concerned to obliterate
the whole line."

"A pity," said Dundas, "but necessary, I suppose."

Earani looked down at the quiet figure before them. "Yes," she
repeated slowly, "a pity, but necessary. I have heard him discuss the
matter himself, and say that but for the sake of the experiment the
line should be carried no further, or that the blood should be
diluted." She laughed lightly. "Always with his breed it was the
'experiment': the sufferer did not matter. It will be a good thing
that he will have plenty of experiment to occupy his time for a good
many years to come."

"It is very wonderful, dearest," said Dundas presently, looking up at
her. "I feel almost as if he could hear us speak, that reflection is
so real." For answer Earani drew over a lever and turned to him. "So
he could now, Alan, were he awake, and, what is more, we could hear
him if he spoke."

Dundas smiled. "I believe it because I must, but it seems incredible."

"Why incredible?" she asked. "A hundred years ago your ancestors would
have had more reason to doubt your telephone or telegraph had it been
described to them. It is only a question of applied science--science
greater than your own. I will prove it." Again, in answer to her
touch, the disc darkened, and once again the blizzard-torn landscape
flashed into sight, but this time, as the vision cleared, there came
to them the howling roar of a tempest. It was uncanny to stand and
watch the storm, and hear it, too, in the calm, still atmosphere of the
gallery--hear it so plainly that when he tried to speak Alan's voice
was lost in the mighty uproar, until, with a touch of her hand, Earani
stilled the sound.

She smiled at him. "We could hear a whispered word as easily, but the
storm was the only sound I could get for you then," and, as she spoke,
her hands blotted out the scene, and in a moment nothing but the
polished disc remained.

"Tell me, Earani," he asked, "could you show any part of the world as
easily?"

"Just as easily," she answered. "Near or far, it makes no difference.
That instrument was called by us a name that means the 'window of the
world.' Two friends ten thousand miles apart could stand face to face
to speak with one another."

Dundas laughed. "It would be a joke to find Barry and speak to him.
Could he hear us?"

Earani nodded. "We could both hear and see him, but he could only hear
us."

Again Dundas laughed. "Dick would think we were spooks. It would be a
lark to find him. Could you, dearest?"

Earani's eyes flashed mischief as she caught the infection from Alan.
She nodded her head and turned again to the machine. "It can be done,"
she replied. "Hold this firmly," and she placed his left hand on a
lever. "Now, take my left hand in your right--so now concentrate your
mind on Dick, think of nothing else." Her right hand touched lever and
button, and the mirror flashed into blurred life. Minute after minute
went by, and the dull flickering images danced over the metal surface.
Earani kept her eyes on the disc anxiously for a while, then she
turned suddenly to Dundas. "Alan, had you heard that Dick was leaving
Glen Cairn?"

"I have not seen him for days," Alan replied, "but I don't think it
likely he would go. Why do you ask?"

"Because," she answered quickly, "I have covered the country for a
radius of fifty miles, and he is not within that radius or he would
have shown on the disc."

"You are sure, dearest?"

"Absolutely," she answered. "Can you think where he would be likely to
go?"

Dundas paused before replying. "Unless he has gone to Melbourne for
some purpose of other. I can think of nowhere else."

Earani looked at Dundas thoughtfully. "Alan, you gave him my warning?"

"Of course, Earani. You don't think--" He broke off as a sudden
suspicion crossed his mind.

"Melbourne. Yes; Melbourne, is that not where your Government is?" she
asked, and then a slow smile came to her lips. "Yes, Alan, I do think.
Indeed, I am almost sure that Dick is trying to make trouble. Well,"
she went on after a pause, "we shall see. How far away is Melbourne?"

"About two hundred miles," answered Dundas. "Still, Earani, I trust
Dick. He would not act treacherously towards us."

Earani shook her head. "He would not for his own gain, Alan, but Dick
is troubled by a conscience, and I fear that conscience will make him
forget his friendship to you and his promise to me, too."

"You will not harm him, dearest?" pleaded Dundas with a note of alarm
in his voice.

She smiled before answering "He was warned, Alan, but unless he has
committed himself too far, or has placed himself beyond pardon, he may
escape the punishment he deserves, but we will see. We cannot risk
interference during the next day or two. Take the lever again."

Dundas obeyed, and once more the flickering light and shade played
across the disc, and presently Dundas caught fleeting glimpses of
familiar landmarks in the great city. One moment he saw, as if from a
great height the granite spans of Prince's Bridge with the vista of
gardens in the background. Then, for a second, the dome of the Law
Courts swung into view. Then a moment later came across the screen the
stately facade of the Federal Houses of Parliament, with their flight
of steps. Here the image on the disc paused for a minute and then
blurred again. Then Dundas, with a catch in his breath, heard Earani's
voice. "Alan, we are close to him now. Remember, not a sound. He could
hear the lightest whisper when his figure appears in the reflector."

Dundas nerved himself for he knew not what. Some instinct told him he
was standing on the verge of a tragedy. He felt a warning pressure on
his hand, and then, in a moment, the mirror cleared. Even prepared as
he was, had not Earani's hand, now free from the levers, closed
swiftly over his lips, a cry must have broken from him at the
revelation before them.

Clearly on the disc showed the interior of a large room, with two men
seated at a table. One of these was Barry, and the other, although
Dundas had never seen him, he knew to be Sir Miles Glover, and, as if
nothing were wanting to complete the damning picture, on the table
between them, in a glorious fiery mass, lay the great diamond belt
that Earani had given to Barry.

Even as the picture flashed up, Barry turned and looked nervously
round as if some sound had startled him. They saw the anxious, worried
lines of his face quite clearly, before he turned away, for he sat
with his back to them, facing the Prime Minister. Then his voice came
so naturally and distinctly, that again only the restraining hand of
Earani prevented Dundas from startling the two reflected figures.

"I must ask you to overlook my nervousness, Sir Miles, but if you knew
as much about Earani as I do you would know I have cause for it. I
cannot guess the extent of her powers or her resources, and if she
knew I had betrayed her, for it is a betrayal, well, I don't think I
would have long to live."

Then came the clear, incisive voice of Sir Miles. "No need to
apologise, Dr. Barry. You have told me enough to make me feel that my
position would be no more secure than your own."

"I blame myself for that, Sir Miles," answered Barry, "but, as you
know, my position became intolerable. You were my last hope."

The grim face across the table relaxed into a slight smile. "I came in
with my eyes wide open, doctor, and if we are both on rather thin ice,
well, it's a duty neither of us dare shirk. Still, I hope your fears
of that lady's activities are exaggerated. If not, well, it can't be
helped. One thing we must do at all costs, and that is, we must stop
those two from leaving the country. No question of life or death--ours
or theirs--can stand in the way of that." Alan's eyes turned to
Earani, and she saw the strain of anxiety in them, and with a swift
and silent movement of her hand the mirror dulled and cleared.

For a moment after the strain, it seemed almost unreal to Alan to find
himself standing in the gallery alone with Earani. It was when he
looked into her eyes again that fear came into his heart. For the
first time since he had known her he saw a look of anger in her face.
Regally, splendidly lovely, she faced him. "You heard, Alan?
Treachery--a betrayal--he acknowledged it. He plots with that other
for our very lives."

His hand caught hers eagerly. "Beloved, oh beloved! I know he is
guilty, but he is my friend. You will spare him. You will, Earani, for
me. You will spare him," for he saw death in those glorious angry
eyes, and even as he spoke and she looked back at him, the glance
softened, and she sighed. Then a soft smile came to the adorable lips,
and she shook her head. "Oh, Alan, Alan. It is not right to plead to
me like that, but I will show you I am not merciless. Though he has
earned his death I will spare him." Then her soft bell-like laughter
rippled through the gallery as he caught her passionately in his arms.
"But, Alan, beloved, I will not promise that he shall escape
altogether. I will give our Dick a lesson; yes, a lesson he will
remember. He will know that it will not be good to interfere in the
future."

Presently she freed herself from the arms that encircled her. "But
Alan, I have no time to lose. I must catch those two together, and I
must move swiftly. Leave me now, and go to your home and wait for me.
I will be away perhaps for a few hours."

Dundas pressed her hand to his lips before he turned away "I am
content, dear heart, I will be waiting for you and counting every
moment until you are with me again."




CHAPTER XXXI


THAT night Barry had driven down to Ronga, and left his car at an
hotel, giving himself bare time to catch the night mail for Melbourne.
Although he had a compartment to himself, he made no attempt to sleep,
but passed the long hours in settling in his mind the story he was to
tell the Prime Minister. He knew he must marshal his main points in
proper order, for his auditor would be the most critical and the most
difficult man to satisfy in Australia. By the time in the early
morning, however, that the train rolled slowly into Spencer Street
station he had satisfied himself, and felt fully armed for the coming
interview.

He had brought with him only a rug and a small handbag, and with these
he crossed from the station to Carlyon's, and procured a bedroom. He
explained that he had been awake all night, and went immediately to
his room, and, after leaving word that he was to be called punctually
at midday, he turned in, and in spite of his anxiety slept soundly
until a hammering at his door warned him that it was nearly time for
action.

He took a hot bath and dressed himself at his leisure, and by the time
he had finished his luncheon it was twenty minutes to two. Then, bag in
hand, he strolled out into Bourke Street and entered a tram at the
terminus. Not one of the dozen passengers took more than a casual glance
at the quietly dressed figure in the corner, and Barry, looking round,
smiled quietly to himself at the thought of what effect a full knowledge
of his mission might have on them. How would the stout well-dressed
citizen opposite him look had he been aware that in the bag resting on
the seat beside Barry were jewels to the value of half a million or
more? Scarce one of the thronging thousands in the street as that tram
went through even glanced at it, though, unknown to them, it was bearing
the fate of the world.

By five minutes to two Barry had climbed the long flight of steps
before the Federal House, and entered the building with the
secretary's telegram in his hand as a passport. Although outwardly
cool, his heart was moving faster than usual, and at the head of the
steps he looked back nervously. He had tried to reassure himself that
his fears were groundless, but over and over again came the thought of
Earani. He had no illusions as to her views of his action should he be
detected, and very little doubt as to his fate. He made no attempt to
excuse himself for the course he was taking. That he was violating a
solemn promise he did not attempt to disguise from himself. Even at
the last moment, while he waited the coming of the secretary, when he
might still have withdrawn, no thought of weakening in his purpose
entered his mind.

Then the secretary came forward. "Doctor Barry?" he asked, abruptly.
Dick nodded. "Sir Miles is waiting. This way, please," and a moment
later he stood in the presence of the Prime Minister.

Each man turned an inquisitive glance on the other, and Sir Miles
waved his hand in the direction of the chair on the opposite side of
the broad table at which he was seated. Dick took the seat indicated.
The face before him was almost as familiar to him as his own, though
he had never before seen the man himself. Not a week passed without
some illustrated paper picturing the keen, clear-cut features and
cold, almost ascetic face of the man who, practically single-handed,
ruled the Commonwealth. After the first glance Barry's nervousness
dropped from him, and the feeling took its place that here at last was
the one man who had the brain to meet the problem that he had found
insoluble. It was Sir Miles who spoke first.

"Doctor Barry, I am a very busy man, and it is not usual for me to
grant an interview of this kind. All I ask of you is that you will not
take up more of my time than is necessary." He spoke in a clear,
incisive voice, but there was a note of encouragement in his words.

Barry met the keen eyes steadily. "Sir Miles," he answered, "before I
can touch on my mission I must warn you that by sharing with me the
knowledge of the matter I wish to put before you, you place yourself
in grave personal danger. I cannot assume the responsibility of going
further unless that point is perfectly clear to you."

For a moment the grey eyes seemed to bore into Barry's soul, then a
shadow of a smile came to the corners of the wide mobile lips. "You
have taken the right course to make me listen, Doctor Barry. I'll
share the risk with you, whatever it may be."

"It is a very real risk, as I am afraid you will find before very
long," said Barry seriously. "However, I will get down to business at
once, but before I start I want you to hear me out. I will tell my
story in the fewest possible words, and however incredible it may
seem, I promise to back every word of it by tangible and
incontrovertible proof."

"Very good. I promise not to interrupt," said Sir Miles with an
inclination of his head.

Then Barry started his story. On his journey to Melbourne he had put
it into shape, and in clear, brief sentences he told Sir Miles of his
knowledge of Earani from the first day that Dundas had called in his
aid until the last meeting he had had with Alan at the hospital. While
he spoke the keen eyes scanned his face. At first there came into them
an expression of cynical amusement, and once or twice Sir Miles seemed
about to interrupt. Gradually the look of interest deepened. Barry
knew that he was telling his story to the keenest and most deadly
cross-examiner at the Australian bar. He knew that the listener had
built up a great reputation by his faultless judgment of men's
motives, and he took heart as he saw the incredulous expression in the
questioning eyes give way first to interest and then to concentrated
attention. "And so," wound up Barry, in conclusion, "I felt I could
bear the responsibility no longer. I feel now that I should have
spoken long ago. I have gained the wisdom that comes after the event,
and I pray that it is not too late even now to prevent a terrible
catastrophe."

As he ceased speaking, Sir Miles sat with his long white hands clasped
on the edge of the table, and, with knit brows and tight-lipped mouth,
stared straight before him for a long minute. Then with an abrupt toss
of his head he came to life, and his voice as he spoke took on a note
that had broken down many a carefully thought-out lying story. "Doctor
Barry, if a man came to you with such a story, and asked you to accept
it and to act on it, what would be your first request?"

"Some tangible proof," answered Barry bluntly.

"Exactly; some tangible proof," repeated Sir Miles, with lifted brows.

For answer Barry took his bag from the floor beside his chair and
opened it. "This," he said, "was given to me by Earani as a present
for my wife," and as he spoke he tossed the great diamond belt on to
the table, where it lay in a heap of multi-coloured fire that filled
the whole room with its flashing splendour. Now Sir Miles, the cold
and immovable, unknown to all but a few intimate friends, had stored
away at the back of his sphinx-like calm an intense love of the
beautiful. His collection of rare and splendid gems was his only
hobby, and it was woe to the dealer who tried to impose on his
judgment.

For the moment he regarded the blazing mass of light before him with
incredulous eyes. Then slowly he drew it towards him and passed it
link by link through his fingers, studying each stone and its setting
from a dozen angles. For ten minutes he sat in silence, never lifting
his eyes from the flaring wonder in his hands. Then at last he spread
it at full length on the table before him, and looked up at Barry.
"Have you any conception of the value of this?" he asked, with a
whimsical smile.

Dick shook his head. "The stones are real, though she said they were
manufactured as an experiment." Sir Miles gave a sigh, and looking
down at the shining mass said, "Well, manufactured or not, if we only
possessed its value I should not worry any further over the deficit
for the past financial year." Then he went on abruptly. "However,
this," and he touched the belt lightly with his finger, "carries
conviction if I am not dreaming. If I accept this as a reality I must
accept your story."

"It is the merest trifle compared with what I could show you, provided
I ever have the opportunity," Barry added the last words with shrug of
his shoulders. Sir Miles looked at him with knit brows. "But, my dear
sir, there would be no chance of this woman knowing of your visit to
me. Are you not worrying yourself unnecessarily?"

"Tell me," asked Barry in return. "You accept my statement of the
case?"

The Prime Minister's head bent slightly. "Doctor Barry, strange to
say, I do; though," he went on, after a pause, "it is as well,
perhaps, that some of my colleagues did not hear me make the
admission."

"Well," continued Barry, "it would be serving you a very ill turn if I
allowed you to under-estimate Earani. Some of her powers I do know.
There are others I an only guess at vaguely. But this I do assure you,
that I feel certain that she would be able to discover my whereabouts
and put her hand on me here as easily as if I were in Glen Cairn."

There was a long silence while Sir Miles sat weighing Harry's words.
Through the open window came the faint clang of tram-bells, and the
hum of traffic outside seemed to accentuate the stillness of the room.
Then Sir Miles spoke. "Quite an interesting programme, doctor. The
total destruction of the coloured races in the world, and an absolute
domination of the remaining white population by two people--one, most
likely, if that precious gentleman in the Himalayas is let loose."

"That is the way I read it," answered Barry. "I've no doubt that
Earani will become subservient to Andax, and then God help the world."

"How long do you think it will be before your friend Dundas and Earani
will attempt to leave?"

"Not more than a day or two now, at the outside," answered Barry. "I
believe if we can do anything it must be done within a few hours."

"What of Dundas?" was the next question. "Could we use him?"

Barry shook his head. "No hope. He is absolutely infatuated. If you
saw her you would understand." He turned and looked nervously round as
he spoke, and then, seeing the look in Sir Miles' eyes, he laughed
shortly. "She might be in the room now, for all we know."

Again the Prime Minister thought deeply. "Then," he said presently,
"to me it appears that force, or an attempt at force, would be
hopeless. I mean civil or military force. Diplomacy is the only weapon
left."

Barry nodded. "Any force brought against her would only mean useless
bloodshed. Of that I am certain."

"And diplomacy?" Sir Miles queried. "You know it rests now between
us."

"Our only chance, and a slender one. Remember, Earani believes that
her mission in the world is sacred. What possible argument do you
think we could bring forward to alter her ideas?"

The Prime Minister stared fixedly at the flashing jewels before him.
Then he looked up at Barry before speaking. "Doctor Barry, suppose we
knew a foreign Power to be on the point of launching a resistless
attack on this country without a declaration of war. Suppose, again,
we knew that by taking one life we could prevent that war and so save
the lives of hundreds of thousands." He stopped and looked at Barry
inquiringly.

"Justification?" Dick asked.

Sir Miles nodded. "Ample, in my mind--provided of course, that the
case stands as you put it, and I have no doubt that it does."

Barry thought for a moment. "It's revolting, but I can see no other
way. If it can be done--" He broke off for a moment. "It will mean
Dundas, too. He would not live if he lost her."

Sir Miles drew open a drawer in his table and produced a heavy
revolver, and looked at it carefully. "If anyone had told me this
morning that I would be seriously considering an assassination this
afternoon as a matter of policy, I'd--"

Barry broke in. "Listen, Sir Miles. You have shown me the way--the
only way. For two of us to be involved in it would be folly. Leave the
rest to me."

Sir Miles looked up with a smile. "No, doctor; we stand or fall
together."

Barry answered calmly. "You must leave it to me. Consider the
position. In the first place, if I brought you to 'Cootamundra' your
very presence would arouse suspicion. Then again, if we fail, it would
mean the death of both, and your life is too valuable to be thrown
away like that. On the other hand, should I succeed, you will be
alive, and in authority here to protect, me, in a measure at any rate,
from the legal consequences of my act. No, Sir Miles, my course is
clear. You must leave the work to me."

The Prime Minister sat back in his chair, with his chin on his chest
and his fingers on the edge of his table, in great perplexity. There
was a short, gasping breath from Barry, and a whispered "My God!" And
Sir Miles came back to himself with a start, and looked up. Midway
between the table and the window stood the tall, cloaked figure of a
woman. Not without justice had his enemies named Miles Glover "Cold
Steel." Even at that moment Barry could not but feel a thrill of
admiration at his splendid self-possession. Had such an occurrence
been an hourly detail with him he could not have shown himself less
moved. Not a line in his strong, clear-cut face altered. There was no
trace of nervousness or anxiety visible as he sat watching the
motionless figure of the woman. Earani was cloaked heavily from head
to foot, and her face, hidden by its hood, was in the deepest shadow;
but not even the shadow could hide the light in her eyes, and it was a
light that boded ill for those that kindled it. There were a few
moments' tense silence, during which Sir Miles Glover's hand fell
lightly on the butt of the revolver that lay on the table before him.

Then Earani glided slowly forward and stood beside the table. From the
first moment her eyes had never left those of Sir Miles. Barry she
disregarded utterly. Bending forward slightly, she spoke, and her
clear voice scarcely rose above a whisper. "Give me that weapon." The
strong hand of the man seemed to close more firmly on it, but he made
no other motion. There was a pause, and Earani bent closer. "Give me
that weapon." Her voice did not alter, but there was a deadly
intensity in her words. Barry watched, fascinated. It seemed as if the
two were engaged in a mighty struggle. The Prime Minister's face set
in tense lines, and his eyes met those of Earani undaunted. Once,
twice, Barry saw the fingers close on the trigger, then the hand
relaxed slightly. For the third time the clear, relentless voice cut
in, "Give me that weapon." Sir Miles seemed struggling to speak, or to
throw off the spell of those pitiless eyes that bound him. Barry saw
that his forehead was damp, and that his breath came faster. Then, as
if he had broken under an intolerable strain, his whole body seemed to
relax suddenly, and with a hand that trembled he lifted the revolver
by its barrel and held it towards Earani. Without moving her eyes from
his for a moment, she took the weapon from his hand and tossed it from
her across the room, where it clattered into a corner.

Then she stood erect again, and Sir Miles heaved a great sigh as of a
swimmer who draws his first breath after a prolonged dive. Then, for
the first time, she seemed aware of Barry's existence. He rose slowly
to his feet and faced her; at least he thought she would not see him
falter, whatever his fate might be. She spoke slowly and clearly: "You
are alive now, and will live, not by any weakness or compassion of
mine, but because the friend you would have betrayed has asked for
your life. Otherwise you would have died an hour ago. Stand there."
Her white hand pointed to the spot where she had first appeared, "and
if you move, move but one inch, your life is finished." Barry backed
slowly to the spot indicated and stood still. For a moment she
regarded him with cold, contemptuous eyes, then turned back to Sir
Miles, who had watched the scene breathless.

With a sweep of her hand she tossed the hood back from her face to her
shoulders, and then sank into the chair Barry had left. As she did so,
all trace of anger seemed to pass from her face, and there was a faint
smile on her lips as she turned her grave grey eyes slowly to those of
the Prime Minister, who had by this time entirely recovered his
self-possession, and met her look without faltering.

"I think," she said coolly, "I can forgive almost any offence except
treachery." Then, abruptly, "What is your name?"

"My friends," answered the statesman quietly, "call me Miles Glover."

"And your enemies?" There was no heat or malice in the soft inquiring
voice.

Sir Miles shrugged his shoulders. "I am not interested in what my
enemies call me," he said. "Why ask?"

She waved her hand in the direction the revolver had taken. "Was it a
friend that plotted to kill me?" Then Barry saw Miles Glover at his
best. Where a smaller man might have tried to temporise or equivocate,
his answer came unhesitatingly. "There is not enough room in the
world for you and me, Earani."

Earani's soft liquid laugh filled the room, and there came a look of
admiration in her eyes. "Ah! that is well said, Miles Glover. I
thought you would have lied. And so you would have killed me, and
yet--if"--She spoke more to herself than to him. "And yet you are not
a fool. What has Dr. Barry told you?"

"Enough for me to realise that for the world's sake you are better out
of it than in it," he said bluntly.

"I said you were not a fool; but does a wise man do well to take the
word of a fool for wisdom? Is there no more than one side to a
question?"

"Scarcely more than one to this question."

"Why?"

"Tell me, is Dr. Barry right when he says that you have the means, and
intend to use them, of destroying the coloured races of the world?"
asked Sir Miles.

Earani answered without hesitation. "That is right, inasmuch as I
intend to eliminate all that is unfit in the world."

"And," went on Sir Miles, "is he right when he says that you have the
means, and will use them, of imposing your will and your own ideas of
civilisation on the world?"

"That is my mission," she answered quietly, "and I regard it as a
sacred mission."

"Then, that being the case, I repeat there is no more than one side of
the question, and there is not room in the world for both of us."

Earani laughed softly. "Even tenacity of purpose can be overdone,
Miles Glover. If one of us must leave the world, I will not be that
one."

He placed his finger on the button on the table beside him. "What is
there to prevent my having you placed under restraint?"

Again she laughed softly. "That would be a solution of your problem.
The first person to enter this room would find two dead men, and
nothing to show how they died. Come, we are not children, you and I.
You had one chance, and you lost."

The hand fell back from the bell, and he looked at her keenly and
thoughtfully. Earani spoke again as if in answering the unspoken
thought. "No, Miles Glover; there is no way out that you can find.
Surrender, and become an ally instead of an enemy."

"Never!" The terse answer came like the snap of a whip.

"Why?" she asked smoothly.

"Because as the head of the Government of this country I intend to
uphold its laws. Apart from your hellish intentions of slaughter, your
very existence threatens the destruction of all established order and
authority. To parley with you for a moment would be treason."

"You cannot bring yourself to look at the question from my side?" she
asked quietly.

"It would be unthinkable," he answered shortly.

"Listen, Miles Glover, and answer me this question. If it were
possible for one human being to take the world, and at one stroke wipe
out your progress for the past thousand years, and leave your
civilisation where it stood when the Roman Empire had fallen, what
would you do to prevent it? Would you kill that man as you meant to
kill me?"

"There would as much justification in either case," he answered
shortly.

"So! Now wait--I tell you this. What I can give your world, what I
will give your world, will be immeasurably greater than what the world
has won for itself during the past thousand years. Would that not be
worth while?"

Sir Miles laughed shortly. "It has taken a thousand terrible years to
win, so far. You would crush the experiences of those years into a
century. The world would die of mental and moral indigestion. Your
meat would be too strong for us."

Earani nodded comprehendingly. "It would be as you say, unless the
medicine were administered scientifically, as it will be."

Sir Miles sighed deeply. "I believe you have powers that will make you
almost omnipotent amongst us. Before you use them, stay your hand a
while. Live amongst us. Learn our thoughts and our ideas. Study the
forces that are moving us. Understand us a little more. Afterwards you
may come to thank me for pleading for time. You may come to know that
in waiting you have been saved from doing an incalculable wrong." He
spoke with intense earnestness.

Earani stood up and let her cloak slip from her shoulders. Then she
moved a little way from the table and stood looking down at him. "Look
at me, Miles Glover," she said quietly. "Tell me, have you ever seen a
human being such as I am?" There was no trace of coquetry or vanity in
word or action, and the man knew it as he looked at her, standing
proudly erect before him. He paused a moment before answering, and
then nodded his head. "I did not think it were possible that humanity
could be brought to such perfection." He spoke with simple sincerity.
"But what does it prove?"

Earani stepped back to her chair and faced him again. "It proves this,
that humanity can be made as I am. This world of yours is full of pain
and misery. Is any price too great to pay to cure it? Is any price too
great that buys a perfect and wholesome humanity? A humanity that is
morally and physically free from infirmity? I tell you, Miles Glover,
that I can and will carry out the trust that has been laid upon me.
There is no power on earth that can stand in my way and escape
destruction. You cannot even dream of the forces you would try to
combat. You hold that to carry out my mission would be a crime. I hold
that to fail in doing so would be a crime, and," she finished with
grim earnestness, "my voice and my authority in this are final."

Sir Miles listened with bowed head to the relentless voice that he
felt had passed sentence on the world. What he had heard from Barry
gave him some idea of what Earani stood for in the world's future, but
now, in the few minutes she had faced him, she herself had intensified
a hundredfold his feeling of dismay at the prospect of her undisputed
rule. It was not so much in what she had said as in the indescribable
sense of power that surrounded her. He had felt the effect of the
mighty will that had left him crushed and broken. He felt as she spoke
that her words were no empty boast, and what she said she could do,
she most surely would do if she wished. So it was with a feeling of
hopelessness he spoke again.

"Supposing you are right," he said, looking up at her. "Allowing you
can do all that you say. Even then you cannot act alone. With all your
powers you must have help. Even this Andax that I hear of, and you,
together, will want the advice and support of others. You must have
those experienced in the ways of their world to help and guide you."

Earani nodded. "So now that you know that and understand it, we can
talk on better terms. We must have men to help, and those must be the
best of your race. That is why I said, 'Be our ally.'"

"And I answered before," said Sir Miles emphatically, "I would not."

She looked across at him And smiled. "That was because you thought that
we were devils, when in reality we will be the world's greatest
benefactors. Tell me, you who know this world and its men so well,
would not it be better for you and for the world if you were on our
side to help us with your knowledge and experience?"

For the first time a ray of hope came to Sir Miles. Perhaps here was a
chance. If he could not avert the catastrophe he might at least lessen
its force. "Would you accept my advice or trust me after to-day?" he
asked. "Why not," she answered. "Would I blame you because that fool,"
she nodded towards Barry, "misled you. Miles Glover, what power have
you here now that is not hampered at every turn by men who are unfit
to stand beneath the same sky with you? Is it not that again and again
your best plans for the good of this people have been wrecked to
gratify the vanity or private ambition of some of your co-workers? I
know that it is so. What could you not do with this country if you
could rule it for its own good, and give it the best that is in you?
Give it unselfishly as you have always done."

He looked up at her bright-eyed. "What you say is impossible."

For answer, Earani stood up and moved round the table to his side. He
looked up at her wondering as she stood over him, with her eyes
intently on his face. "How old are you, Miles Glover?" she asked
quietly.

"Just fifty-two," he answered, smiling.

She placed her hand on his forehead, and bending his head back
slightly, she looked intently into his eyes. "Fifty-two," she
repeated, "and you have always treated this body of yours fairly, my
friend, I should judge." She paused, and went on: "Fifty-two--well, I
can give you another fifty, perhaps sixty years, of useful, vigorous
life." She stepped back a few paces. "That offer is not merely empty
words; I can and will make it come true if you wish." She paused for a
moment.

"Think, fifty years of absolute power, backed and guided by ten
thousand years of experience, and this people of yours to work for. To
lay the foundation of a work that will knit them into a perfect
humanity; a race that will eventually become without blemish, morally
or physically. My friend, would such a work be the work of the fiends
you would have us appear?"

Miles Glover looked at her with a new light in his eyes. "Tell me," he
asked, "if I promise my help, would you leave this country to my
guidance?"

She bent her head. "Absolutely. You will have it, subject to no other
restrictions than the rules we will give you, and you will use your
own discretion in enforcing them."

"And if I accept," he asked, "what will you do now?"

"For the time being I must leave here. There is other work to be done,
but until I am ready you must forget you have even heard of me."

"Forget?" he said in amazement.

"Until I wish you to remember," she answered, smiling.

Sir Miles sat in silence, thinking deeply. Then Earani spoke again.
"My friend, there are but two paths to choose between. The one will
lead you to power such as you have never dreamed of. The other--well,
you must see for yourself that I can leave no strong enemies in my
path."

He looked up at her calmly. "Is that a threat?" She smiled back at
him. "It is merely a statement of the case. I would far rather have
you with me than remove you, as I must otherwise. You know too much
now. I can take no risks."

"It makes no difference," he said quietly. "I had already made up my
mind to accept."

"And you will never regret your decision, Miles Glover," she answered.
"And now to forget until I am ready for your help."

"How forget? Could I ever forget?" he asked.

"You will," she said, stepping closer to him. "Look up at me. So. Now
your hand." She took his outstretched hand in hers and bent over him.
Then she commenced to speak softly in her own tongue, and as she spoke
the light faded from his eyes, and his head sank forward slowly.
Presently she ceased speaking, and stood looking down upon him. A
moment later, and his face rested on his arm that lay outstretched on
the table, and Miles Glover had forgotten.

Earani watched the unconscious figure for a few moments. Then she
stooped forward and picked up the great jewelled belt that lay on the
table, and clasped it about her waist. Only then did she turn towards
Barry, who had watched the scene throughout with despair in his heart.

She walked up to him and looked at him reflectively. "I do not think I
am wise to let you live, Richard Barry, but because it is Alan's wish
I hold my hand. I will not even seal your lips as I have sealed his"--
she nodded towards the table--"but this I do promise you. If now or at
any other time you make one move against me, aye, or even think of
one, then the punishment I have withheld today will overtake you." She
walked towards the window and turned again. "It is my order that you
return to your home tonight. You understand?"

"Yes," was the sullen answer; "I understand, Earani. I have failed."

"Go now," she said, "but remember, you are watched."

Barry took his bag from the table and turned towards her again, but
Earani had vanished. With a shrug of his shoulders he paused for a
moment to glance at the quiet form at the table, and then, heavy at
heart, he left the room.




CHAPTER XXXII


MEANWHILE, at 'Cootamundra,' Dundas awaited impatiently the return of
Earani. In implicit obedience to her wishes he had returned to the
homestead. The afternoon wore on, and for some unaccountable reason a
feeling of foreboding took possession of him. When he had come to the
surface the sun was shining brightly and warmly, but shortly
afterwards the southern sky gave signs of one of the sudden spring
storms that were characteristic of the district. The light wind died
away, and the creeping line of cloud rose higher, dulling the
brightness, and over all fell the threatening stillness that heralded
the outbreak.

Dundas paced to and fro in the drive, watching the sky with anxious
eyes, and trying to battle with his nervous anxiety for Earani, and to
shake off the feeling of depression that had fallen on him.

Then suddenly, as his eyes turned across the vineyard, he saw
something that brought him to a halt with an exclamation of surprise
and dismay. Unseen till that moment, a dogcart had turned from the
main road into the lane approaching 'Cootamundra,' and it did not need
more than one glance to tell him that the coming visitor was no other
than Marian Seymour.

He stood his ground, watching the progress of the dogcart with
increasing perplexity. The gate was too far away for him to open it
for her. She would reach it long before he could. So he waited,
racking his brain for some reasonable explanation of her visit.

As the dogcart drew nearer, and he could hear the beat of the pony's
hoofs on the drive, he walked back to the verandah, and stood
bareheaded. Marian swung the dogcart smartly round the curve, and came
to a clattering halt before him. Without a word of greeting, she
sprang down from her seat, not waiting for his assistance. Dundas
stood in embarrassed silence as she faced him, still holding the reins
in her hand.

"Alan," she said quietly, "will you tie my pony up for me? There will
be no need to take him out of the shafts. I will wait here for you."
Her calm self-possession gave him time to regain his own. He took the
reins from her outstretched hand. "You were wise to run for shelter,
Marian," he said in as matter-of-fact voice as he could summon, and,
turning as he led the horse away, he continued, "This storm will be
something out of the ordinary." It took him very few minutes to
complete his task, and, after covering the cushions to protect them
against the coming downpour, he returned to the verandah.

Marian was standing where he had left her. A feeling misgiving came to
Dundas as he looked at her strained and anxious eyes. He was about to
make some commonplace inquiry, when she interrupted quickly, "Alan, I
did not come here to pretend. There can be no pretence between us. You
know that it is not the storm that has driven me here."

"Whatever the cause, Marian, you are welcome," he answered in level
tones. "But you had better come into the house," and he held the door
wide for her as she passed inside. "It is not exactly conventional, I
suppose," he said, as he brought forward a chair for her, "but--"

She cut his words short with an abrupt gesture. "Convention!" she gave a
little laugh. "How little convention weighs when the real things are
in the scale. No, Alan we won't talk of convention."

Dundas looked at her with lifted brows. It was a new and unknown
Marian who stood there, proudly erect, ignoring the proffered chair,
and whose pleading eyes gave the lie to her haughty bearing. "As you
please, Marian," he replied, smiling, "I knew when I saw you coming
(you want me to be honest?) that you were not coming for shelter,
but--" here he paused and shook his head, "but why you came is beyond
me."

She glanced through the window into the gathering shadows, then turned
abruptly. "Yes, Alan, I think you would be hardly likely to guess why
I am here. I have come to ask you a question." She paused.

"Well?" he prompted.

She looked straight with unfaltering eyes into his. "Alan, you cannot
have forgotten that night you drove me home from the bank. Tell me,
did what passed between us on that drive mean anything to you then?
Tell me, were you in earnest?"

Dundas flushed. The directness of the attack staggered him for a
moment, and she saw it, and interrupted his halting words quickly.
"Don't misunderstand me, Alan, this is not recrimination. My purpose
is too strong to allow any trifle of convention to come before it. I
only want to know if you were in earnest then. Don't count what has
happened since."

He looked into the true brown eyes and read the devotion shining from
them. For a moment he bent his head, and then spoke calmly. "Since you
ask it, Marian, I answer, Yes. At the time I meant it all, and more."

The girl sighed deeply and then spoke again. "And if the other had not
come, Alan, you would have asked me to be your wife?" She smiled
bravely as she spoke, but the smile could not hide the pain that
showed behind it.

Dundas could not find the word to answer, but bent his head in
silence, and so they stood for a long moment. It was the man who spoke
first. "I cannot ask you to forgive me, Marian. There are some things
that are beyond forgiveness. I do not know how great the wrong may be,
but, Marian, you have seen her"--his voice faltered--"and at least you
can understand. If there can be any palliation for the wrong I have
done it is in that I had not found her until afterwards--and then--I
forgot all." His voice died away in a whisper, and he stood with his
head still bowed before her, and could not see the all-embracing love
that shone from her troubled, worshipping eyes.

"Ah, Alan, no need to ask for forgiveness; that has been yours for
many days unasked. I have not come to blame, for I understand so
well--oh! so well. But tell me, Alan, do you think the girl you would
have asked to share your life would wrong you now?"

He looked up quickly. "You wrong me, Marian! You surely do not need an
answer to that question."

"And yet, Alan, I am going to test your confidence in me to the
utmost," she went on steadily. "I am going to risk your anger, and
perhaps before I have finished you will despise me."

He smiled and shook his head. "You could not make me do that, Marian.
Whatever you have to say to me, I know you come as a friend."

There was another silence, and then the girl spoke again. "Alan, I
have come to beg you, to implore you, to give her up before it is too
late."

"Marian!"

"Let me finish first," she broke in quietly. "Don't misunderstand me.
No matter what happens, you and I could never be anything to one
another now. There is no thought of self in this for me. It is for
your own sake, Alan, that I appeal to you now. For your happiness and
your whole future, for everything you hold dear, I beg you to guard
yourself. I do not know who she is, but in my soul I know she will
bring your nothing but sorrow. That terrible beauty of hers holds you
in its grip, Alan, but a woman can see more clearly. She will lead
always, and always you will follow, and the road she will take you
will lead to despair."

Dundas listened with a faint smile on his lips. "Ah, Marian! It is not
like you to condemn without a hearing. If you only knew her really as
she is, you would know how great a wrong you do her."

"Alan, I do not wrong her. I know she would not harm you purposely.
But tell me, why is it that I feared her instinctively from the moment
I saw her? Why is it that Dick Barry fears her, not only on your
account but on account of other things which he dared not tell me?"

Dundas answered coldly, "I do not know what Barry has told you,
Marian. He is no longer my friend. But this I do know, if he has said
a word against Earani he is worse even than I thought him, for until
today, when he attempted to betray us, she has been nothing but his
friend."

"Friend," she said bitterly, "and yet he feared for his life from this
friend. This friend that comes and goes unseen. This friend that holds
some powers that the mind shrinks from. This friend that would not
hesitate to kill to gain her ends. I could have had that friendship.
It was freely offered, but I tell you I would rather die than take her
hand, Alan," she went on passionately. "I tell you she is evil, evil.
I have loved you. I love you now; but I would rather see you dead than
bound to her. What do you know of her? Is she a creature of this
world, or is she something nameless, something to dread instead of to
love?"

Dundas listened in silence until she paused. Then he spoke gently.
"Marian, you wrong yourself greatly, but you wrong Earani more. That
you are sincere in what you say I do not doubt, but you are wrong, so
wrong, that what you say would be almost laughable, if it were not so
pitiful. Even were she all you say, my answer would be the same, but I
know her as no one else ever can or will. She is the noblest and the
most splendid woman the world has ever known, and, Marian, if by any
chance we were parted, then my life would end."

At that moment a clear, full voice broke in, "A proper answer, Alan."
Both Marian and Dundas, lost to all else but the question at issue,
swung round at the words. The shadows had deepened while they talked,
so that the room was almost in twilight. On the threshold stood
Earani. She had tossed back the hood of her mantle, and the silky
strands of her hair fell about her face in wind-blown disorder. She
was flushed and radiant with exercise, and her breath came quickly,
and the big grey eyes were bright with excitement. Never before had
Dundas seen her look so regally beautiful. Forgetting everything else
but the joy of seeing her safe, Dundas exclaimed, "Earani! Thank God,
you are back and safe. I feared--"

"There was nothing to fear, Alan. In truth I came on the wings of the
wind and raced the storm back. I think my woman's instinct urged me
on," and she turned her eyes meaningly on Marian, who stood silent and
motionless watching her.

Dundas glanced from one to the other. Into Earani's eyes had come a
look of cold inquiry, while from those of Marian flashed an expression
he could not fathom. Both seemed about to speak, and he hurried to
interpose. "Marian came as a friend, Earani, but she does not
understand."

Earani smiled and turned to him. "Ah, Alan, am I unfortunate in that I
antagonise your friends, or are you unfortunate in your friends? First
it is Dick, and now it is this girl who tries to come between us,
but," she went on, coming towards him, "but your faith in me remains
unshaken. I am very rich in my one friend, Alan." He took the
oustretched hand in both of his, and together they turned toward
Marian, who had neither moved nor spoken.

"Marian," said Dundas quietly, "this is the only answer I can give
you. I had hoped that you would have been friends. It is not too late
even now."

For the first time the girl spoke, facing them erect, with her
clenched hands stiffly at her sides. "Friends!" and there was a
terrible bitterness in the word. "As you say, Alan, it is not too late
even now. It is not too late to save your future, and your peace of
mind. Alan, I am right. You are at the parting of the ways. For the
sake of all you hold sacred close your eyes to her beauty, and draw
yourself away," and she held out imploring hands.

But the calm voice of Earani broke in, "And for you, Marian, it is not
too late. What you wish is hopeless, hopeless, and your fears for him
are folly. The gift of peace and forgetfulness I offered is still
yours, if you will have it; but nothing can part us now. In the eyes
of your God, we are bound."

At that moment the first deep growl of thunder rolled round unnoticed
by them all. Marian's answer came swiftly. "From you I will take
nothing. Not even my life, if it were yours to grant it. Alan, for the
last time."

He shook his head, and turned away. "Oh, Marian, why will you be so
blind? My life and all are here." For a fleeting second the room was
lit by a vivid flash from outside, and a nearer crash of thunder
rolled over them. Earani threw one white splendid arm across his
shoulder, and the two stood looking into one another's eyes, forgetful
for the moment of the girl. Again the light flashed up. Marian had
turned away, and as she did so saw the blue light gleam on the thin,
keen blades of the Indian knives on the wall beside her. With the
crash that followed the light, the blind hate she felt for Earani
reached its flood. Her hand snatched a light knife from its place, and
as she turned Alan's arm encircled Earani's waist. They had forgotten
her very existence. Then the strain snapped. She took one swift step
towards them, and with all the force of her strong, young arm,
struck--once, and the red knife dropped from her hand.

Earani made no sound. Her stately head dropped on Alan's shoulder for
an instant, and then her body, relaxed in death, slipped through his
arms. But as it fell, with a cry of fear, he knelt, and caught her to
him. After that one cry, he, too, was silent. Swiftly as had come the
blow, came to him realisation. He drew his hand from beneath her, and
stared wide-eyed at the blood that reddened it. Then he looked up with
agonised questioning eyes at the girl, who stood looking down on him.
Then his glance fell to the knife that lay at her feet, and after that
he saw her no more.

As the slow moments passed he knelt, gazing down into the white face
of his dead, and while he knelt the storm broke in a lashing fury of
rain. Neither of the living heard it. Mute and motionless they gazed
until suddenly Dundas roused himself. Without looking up he passed his
arms round the still body of Earani. Then with a mighty heave of his
shoulders he brought himself to his feet, still holding her in his
arms. Passing Marian with unseeing eyes, he crossed the room, and
bearing his still-warm burden out into the storm he strode towards the
shed. Horror-stricken, Marian watched him go; then she suddenly
followed him into the storm; calling his name. He reached the shed and
entered it, and she followed in all haste, to find the door barred
against her.

As one in a dream, Dundas stood in the lift and sank into the depths
of the sphere. With a strength born of a terrible resolution he made
his way down the steps from the first landing to the vestibule. No
sound of the fury of the storm reached him. He crossed the gleaming
pavement, passed the groups of figures, and made his way to the
"temple," and came to a halt beside the throne-like couch, and bending,
laid the body gently on it. Reverently and tenderly he composed her
for her rest. He loosened the arm-thick silken tresses over her
shoulders, and folded the white hands across the still, round breast.
Then he stood erect and looked down on her long and earnestly, and
there was a faint smile on his lips that answered the soft, mysterious
shadows about the corners of her mouth.

Then he knelt beside her, and kissed the white forehead, and spoke
softly and tenderly. "Wait for me, my beloved. Wait for me, I am
coming to you now." His hands felt for the spring beside the couch.
The tiny panel fell open, and with steady, unfaltering touch, still
keeping his eyes on the hallowed face before him, he pressed the
button in the cavity--and found peace.

****

Above, in the driving welter of the storm, the frantic girl beat with
her hands on the locked door of the shed. The voice that called aloud
one name in her agony was swept away by the storm. At last, in
despair, she turned away to the homestead. The lashing rain had
drenched her through and through, and her dripping garments clung to
her body.

She reached the verandah, and turned to look back. As she did so a
dull roar broke on her ears, a roar that swelled into a terrific
volume of sound that blotted out the fury of the storm. Then for an
instant the shed showed up an incandescent mass, and collapsed in
twisting, writhing sheets of white-hot iron, and where it had stood
shot up for a second a mighty pillar of blue-white flame, that while
it lasted turned the falling night into midday brightness, and the
solid earth rocked and swayed like storm-tossed water. In ten seconds
from the time the first sound was heard it was all over, and the
darkness and the storm swept on again, and a thick mist of steam rose
from the cracked and blistered earth.

*****

It was a weary and dispirited man who stepped from the night mail to
the Ronga platform on the following morning. Barry had passed the
night in sleepless vigil. He had failed in his purpose, and failed
hopelessly, and the future was dark before his eyes. The night of
storm had given way to a glorious spring morning, when he started in
his car back to Glen Cairn. It was still early when he reached his
home. At his door he was met by Kitty, with deep trouble in her eyes.
"Oh, Dick, I'm afraid something dreadful has happened. Marian Seymour
is missing. She left home yesterday afternoon, and did not come back.
Her mother has been here, simply distracted. Can you help?"

"Where's Seymour?" asked Dick, with sinking heart.

"He went to Sydney a week ago," answered Kitty.

Barry thought a moment. "Then I must get Bryce."

"Oh, Dick, do you know anything?" asked Kitty, in deep distress.

"I'm afraid I do, Kitty, and hope with all my heart I'm wrong," and he
turned back to his car. "I may be a good while, Kit, but don't worry,"
he said, as the car moved off.

He roused Bryce from his after-breakfast cigar, and with a few words
of explanation hurried Hector to his car. Barry had no doubt but that
Marian had gone to 'Cootamundra,' in spite of his warnings, and as
they raced along at top speed he outlined in terse, swift sentences to
the bewildered Bryce the history of Earani as he knew it. "And," he
concluded, "Marian has gone out there, and God alone knows what has
happened."

"It was a night in which anything could happen," said Bryce. "The
worst storm we've had for years, and just about nightfall there was a
heavy shock of earthquake. The whole town rattled as if it were coming
to pieces. This is a deuce of a business, Dick. Shouldn't we have
brought weapons of some kind?"

Barry laughed shortly. "You don't realise even remotely what we are up
against, Hec. Weapons are no use against her. I pray with all my heart
that poor child is safe--but--" and he said no more until they came in
sight of the homestead. Then all he said was, "The shed's gone.
Something's happened." The gate to the vineyard stood open, and they
ran through with unchecked speed. As the car halted before the
verandah the two men sat for a moment staring at one another in
silence. From the open door of the homestead came the sound of a
voice. A woman's voice that chattered, and broke off into merry
laughter. Bryce whispered one word: "Marian," and the two leaped out
and strode across the verandah and through the door.

She was seated on the couch under the window, and took no notice of
their coming. "The red flower sprang from the ground at each step he
took. I saw them. Bright red flowers, but they faded so soon. But they
will come again," and she stopped and laughed quietly.

Barry stepped quickly up to her, "Marian, Marian." She looked up. "You
are too late; he has gone. But the flowers--the flowers--" she paused
and seemed to think. "I will not tell anyone where he has gone," and
she laughed merrily and turned away.

Barry slipped out to the car, and returned with a small leather case
in his hand. Bryce stood by in helpless silence, and while Barry
busied himself over his instruments, the girl babbled without ceasing.
Presently Dick stepped over to her side, and took her hand. She
surrendered passively, and watched him with incurious eyes, giving no
sign of feeling as he pressed the needle to her wrist.

"Bring the rug from the car, Hec," commanded Barry; and he wrapped her
closely in it. Presently the restless muttering ceased, and Barry laid
the silent unconscious form back on the couch.

"She'll do for a while," was his comment, "and now we must find out
what has happened."

"What about Marian?" asked Bryce.

Barry's face darkened. "Complete collapse, nervous and mental."

"Will she recover?"

"Can't tell yet, Hec; too soon; but I hope for her own sake she never
will."

They turned to the door, and Bryce stooped. "Look," was all he said,
as he handed a stained and evil-looking blade to Barry.

"The red flowers," answered Barry grimly, looking from the knife to
the sinister stain on the floor. "Hec, I fancy the world owes Marian a
debt it can never repay."

They walked from the verandah to the spot where the shed had stood.
Now there was nothing but a shallow, fire-blackened hole, without a
vestige of iron or timber left, and where they stood they could feel
the fierce heat from the ground through their thick-soled boots. Bryce
looked at Barry with questioning eyes. "Your earthquake, I fancy,
Hec," he answered. "I don't know what has happened, but everything has
gone, and I thank God that it has."

Later they stood together by the river bank, and saw beneath them a
smashed dogcart, with a dead pony beneath it. For a while they looked
in silence. Then spoke Bryce: "Dick, can't you see what has happened?
Alan was in the dogcart. The storm frightened the pony. It bolted, and
went over the bank. Alan was thrown into the river. Marian saw it all,
and--" He paused, and looked inquiringly at Dick. "How will it fit, do
you think?"

Barry pursed his lips thoughtfully. "Yes," he answered slowly. "I
think we can make it fit, but first there is work to do at the
homestead."

The work was done thoroughly. It took nearly an hour to satisfy Barry
that no trace of a dark stain was left on the boards of the floor, and
no sign of use was left on a certain knife when he had restored it to
its place on the wall. "You see, Hec, it's neglect of trifling
precautions that brings trouble in arrangements like this. I've had to
dust every one of those knives, so that the one should not look
different from the rest, and I don't think I have left any finger-prints
either."

At last it was finished, and the two lifted the sleeping girl tenderly
to the waiting car. Then Barry closed the door of the homestead, and
slipped the key into his pocket.

Scarcely a word passed between them as the car raced back to Glen
Cairn. It was Bryce who said: "Dick, it's mighty queer to think of
that other waiting for someone to find him."

Dick answered shortly: "Thank God, he will wait an eternity now."

Finis.



THE END



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