The Conquest of the Moon Pool/Chapter 1
AS I begin this narrative, I find it necessary to refer, briefly, to my original recital which appeared under the title of "The Moon Pool," of the causes that led me into the adventure of which it is to be the history. The adventure which would forge the last links in 'the chain to bind the Dweller.
I have told you of that dread night on the Southern Queen, when the monstrous,' shining Thing of living light and mingled rapture and horror embraced Throckmartin and drew him from his cabin down the moon path to its lair beneath the Moon Pool. I had promised him I would solve the mystery. But I had delayed keeping this promise for three years, believing nothing could really be done, and fearing my story would not be believed. At last, however, remorse drove me into action.
Had I set forth for that group of Southern Pacific islets called the Nan-Matal, where the Moon Pool lay hidden, a day before or after, I would not have found Olaf Huldricksson, hands lashed to the wheel of his ravished Brunhilda, steering it even in his sleep down the track of the Dweller. Olaf whose wife and babe the Dweller had snatched from him. Nor would I have picked up Larry O'Keefe from the wreck of his flying boat fast sinking under the long swells of the Pacific. And without O'Keefe and Huldricksson that weird and almost unthinkably fantastic drama enacted beyond the Moon Pool's gates must have had a very different curtain.
The remorse of a botanist, the burning, bitter hatred of a Norse seaman, the breaking of a wire in a flying-boat's wing—all these meeting at one fleeting moment formed the slender tripod upon which rested the fate of humanity! Could that universal irony which seems to mold our fortunes go further?
But there they were O'Keefe and Huldricksson and I; Larry O'Keefe and Olaf Huldricksson and I, and Lakla of the flower face and wide, golden eyes. Lakla the Handmaiden of the Silent Ones, and the Three who had fashioned the Dweller from earth's secret heart—each thread in its place.
And so humanity lives!
And now let me recall to those who read my first narrative, and make plain to those who did not, what it was that took me on my quest; the enigmatic prelude in which the Dweller first tried its growing power.
You will remember that Dr. David Throckmartin, one of America's leaders in archeological and ethnological research, had set out for the Caroline Islands, accompanied by his young wife, Edith, his equally youthful associate, Dr. Charles Stanton, and Mrs. Throckmartin's nurse from babyhood, Thora Helverson.
Their destination was that extraordinary cluster of artificially squared, basalt-walled islets off the eastern coast of Ponape, the largest Caroline Island, known as the Nan-Matal. It was Throckmartin's belief that in those prehistoric ruins lay the clue to the lost and highly civilized race which had peopled that ancient continent, which, sinking beneath the waters of the pacific, Atlantis-like, had left in the islands we call Polynesia only its highest peaks.
Dr. Throckmartin planned to spend a year on the Nan-Matal, hoping that within its shattered temples and terraces, its vaults and cyclopean walls, or in the maze of secret tunnels that running under the sea threaded together the isles, he would recover not only a lost page of the history of our races, but also, perhaps, a knowledge that had vanished with it.
The subsequent date of this expedition formed what became known as the Throckmartin mystery. Three months after the little party had landed at Ponape, and had been accompanied to the ruins by a score of reluctant native workmen—reluctant because all the islanders shun the Nan-Matal as a haunted place—Dr. Throckmartin appeared alone at Port Moresby, Papua.
There he said that he was going to Melbourne to employ some white workmen to help him in his excavations, the superstitions of the natives making their usefulness negligible. He took passage on the Southern Queen, sailing the same day that he appeared, and three nights later he vanished utterly from that vessel.
It was officially reported that he had either fallen from the ship or had thrown himself overboard. A relief party sent to the Nan-Matal for the others in his, party, found no trace of his wife, of Stanton, or of Thora Helverson. The native workmen, questioned, said that on the nights of the full moon the ani or spirits of the ruins had great power. That on these nights no Ponapean would go within sight or sound of them, and that by agreement with Throckmartin they had been allowed to re- turn to their homes on these nights, leaving the expedition "to face the spirits alone."
AFTER the full of the moon on the third month of the expedition's stay, the natives had returned to the Throckmartin camp only to find it deserted. And then, "knowing that the ani had been stronger," they had fled.
I had been a passenger with Throckmartin on the Southern Queen. I had been with him when that wondrous horror which had followed him down the moon path after it had set its unholy seal upon him had snatched him from the vessel. He had told me his story, and I had promised, Heaven forgive me, that if the Dweller took him as it had taken his wife and Stanton and Thora, I would follow.
He had told me his story, and I knew that story was true—for twice I had seen the inexplicable power which Throckmartin, discovering, had loosed upon himself and those who loved him. That unearthly Thing which left on the faces of its prey soul-deep lines of mingled agony and rapture, of joy celestial and misery infernal, side by side, as though the hand of God and the hand of Satan working in harmony had etched them!
I first beheld the Dweller on that first night out from Papua when it came racing to claim Throckmartin.
We two were on the upper deck. He had not yet summoned the courage to tell me of what had befallen him. Storm threatened but suddenly, far to the north, the clouds parted, and upon the waters far away the moon shone.
Swiftly the break in the high-flung canopies advanced toward us and the silver rapids of the moon stream between them came racing down toward the Southern Queen like a gigantic, shining serpent writhing over the rim of the world. And down its shimmering length a pillared radiance sped. It reached the barrier of blackness that still held between the ship and the head of the moon stream and beat against it with a swirling of shimmering misty plumes, throbbing lacy opalescences and vaporous spiralings of living light.
Then, as the protecting shadow grew less, I saw that within the pillar was a core, a nucleus of intense light—veined, opalescent, vital. And through gusts of tinkling music came a murmuring cry as of a calling from another sphere, making soul and body shrink from it irresistibly and reach toward it with an infinite longing. "Av-o-lo-ha! Av-o-lo-ha!" it sighed.
Straight toward the radiant vision walked Throckmartin, his face transformed from all human semblance by unholy blending of agony and rapture that had fallen over it like a mask. And then—the clouds closed, the moon path was blotted out, and where the shining Thing had been was—nothing!
What had been there was the Dweller!
It was after I had beheld that apparition that Throckmartin told me what would have been, save for what my own eyes had seen, his incredible story. How, upon a first night of the full moon, camping on another shore, they had seen lights moving on the outer bulwarks of that islet of the Nan-Matal, called Nan-Tanach, the "place of frowning walls," and faintly to them over the waters had crept the crystalline music, while far beneath, as though from vast distant caverns, a mighty muffled chanting had risen. How, on going to Nan-Tanach next day, they had found set within the inner of its three titanic terraces, a slab of stone, gray and cold and strangely repellent to the touch. Above it and on each side was a rounded breast of basalt in each of which were seven little circles that gave to the hand that same alien shock, "as of frozen electricity," that contact with the gray slab gave.
And that night, when sleep had seemed to drop down upon them from the moon, but before the sleep had conquered him, he had seen the court of the gray rock curdle with light. Into it had walked Thora, bathed and filled with a pulsing effulgence beside which all earthly light was shadow!
He told me of their search for Thora at dawn, when the slumber had fallen from their eyes, and of their discovery of her kerchief caught beneath the lintel of the gray slab, betraying that it had opened, and opening, closed upon her. Of their efforts to force it, and of the vigil that night when Stanton was taken and walked "like a corpse in which flamed a god and a devil" in the embrace of the Dweller upon the shattered walls of Tanach, vanishing at last through the moon door, even as had Thora. And the muffled, distant, mighty chanting as of a multitude that hailed his passage.
After that, of the third night, when his wife and he watched despairingly beside the moon door, waiting for it to open, hoping to surprise the shining Thing that came through it, and surprising, conquer it. Of their wait until the moon swam up and its full light shone upon the terrace. Of the sudden gleaming out of the little circles under its rays and of the sighing murmur of the moon door, swinging open as its hidden mechanism responded to the force of the light falling on the circles. And of his mad rush down the glimmering passage beyond the moon-door portal to the threshold of the wondrous chamber of the Moon Pool.
ABSORBED, silent, marveling, I listened as he described that place of mystery—a vaulted arch that seemed to open into space; a space filled with lambent, coruscating, many-colored mist whose brightness grew even as he watched; before him an awesome pool, circular, perhaps twenty feet wide. Around it a low, softly curving lip of glimmering, silvery stone. The pool's water was palest blue. Within its silvery rim it was like a great, blue eye staring upward.
Upon it streamed seven shafts of radiance.
They poured down upon it like torrents; they were like shining pillars of light rising from a sapphire floor. One was the tender pink of the pearl; one of the aurora's green; a third a deathly white; the fourth the blue in mother-of-pearl; a shimmering column of pale amber; a beam of amethyst; a shaft of molten silver. The pool drank them!
And even as Throckmartin gazed, he saw run through the blue water tiny gleams of phosphorescence, sparkles and coruscations of pale incandescence, and far, far down in its depths he sensed a movement, a shifting gleam as of some radiant body slowly rising.
Mists then began to float up from the surface, tiny swirls that held and hung in the splendor of the seven shafts, absorbing their glory and at last coalescing into the shape I had seen and that he called the Dweller.
He had raised his pistol and sent bullet after bullet into it. And as he did so, out from it swept a gleaming tentacle. It caught him above the heart; wrapped itself round him. Over him rushed a mingled ecstasy and horror. It was, he said, as though the cold soul of evil and the burning soul of good had stepped together within him.
He saw that the shining nucleus of that which he had watched shape itself from vapors and light had form—but a form that eyes and brain could not define; as though a being of another world should assume what it might of human semblance, but could not hide that what human eyes saw was still only a part of it. It was neither man nor woman; it was unearthly and androgynous and even as he found its human semblance, that semblance changed, while all the while every atom of him thrilled with interwoven rapture and terror.
Behind him he had heard the swift feet of his wife, racing to his aid. Love gave him power, and he wrested himself from the Dweller. Even as he did so he fell, and saw her rush straight into the radiant glory! Saw, too, the Dweller swiftly wrap its shining mists around her and draw her over the lip of the pool; dragged himself to the verge and watched her sink in its embrace, down, down through the depths—"a shining, many-colored, nebulous cloud, and in it Edith's face, disappearing, her eyes staring up at me filled with ecstasy supernal and infernal horror—and—vanished!"
Then, far below, again the triumphant chanting!
There had come to Throckmartin madness. He had memory of running wildly through glimmering passages; then blackness and oblivion until he found himself far out at sea in the little boat they had used to cruise around the lagoons of the Nan-Matal. He had bribed the half-caste captain of a ship that picked him up to take him to Port Moresby, from whence he intended to go to Melbourne, hoping to find some who would return with him, force the haunted chamber, and battle with him against the Dweller.
And oh that third night I cowered in the corner of his cabin and saw the Dweller take him!
For three years I was silent, and then, obeying a sudden, irresistible impulse, I started, alone, for the Nan-Matal to make reparation. For Throckmartin had not entirely believed that his wife was dead, nor Stanton nor Thora; rather he thought that they might be held in some unearthly bondage.
And he had, too, a vague belief that the deep, underground chantings that had accompanied the disappearance of the Dweller with its victims, pointing clearly as they did to the existence of other beings or powers in its mysterious den, held a vast threat against humanity. How true was his scientific clairvoyance, and yet how far from the amazing, unthinkable truth, you are to learn. It was my own conviction that in both he had been right; and it was this conviction which now forced me onward at all speed toward the Carolines.
I delayed my departure from America only long enough to get certain instruments and apparatus that long brooding over the phenomena had suggested might be useful in coping with them.
Nine weeks later, with my paraphernalia, I was northward bound from Port Moresby on the Suwarna, a swift little copra sloop with a fifty-horse-power motor auxiliary, and heading for Ponape—for the Nan-Matal and the Chamber of the Moon Pool and all that it held for me of soul- shaking awe and peril.
WE SIGHTED the Brunhilda some five hundred miles south of Ponape. Soon after we had left Port Moresby the wind had fallen, but the Suwarna, although far from being as fragrant as the Javan flower for which she was named, could do her twelve knots an hour. Da Costa, the captain, was a garrulous Portuguese. The crew were six huge, chattering Tonga boys.
The Suwarna had cut through Finschafen Huon Gulf to the protection of the Bismarcks, and we were rolling over the thousand-mile stretch of open ocean with New Hanover far behind us and our boat's bow pointed straight toward Nukuor of the Monte Verdes. After we had rounded Nukuor we should, barring accident, reach Ponape in not more than sixty hours.
Beneath us the slow, prodigious swells of the Pacific lifted us in gentle, giant hands and sent us as gently down the long, blue wave slopes to the next broad, upward slope. There was a spell of peace over the ocean that was semihypnotic, stilling even the Portuguese captain who stood dreamily at the wheel, slowly swaying to the rhythmic lift and fall of the sloop.
There came a whining hail from the Tonga boy lookout draped lazily over the bow.
"Sail he b'long port side!"
Da Costa straightened and gazed while I raised my glass. The vessel was a scant mile away, and must have been visible long before the sleepy watcher had seen her. She was a sloop about the size of the Suwarna, without power. All sails set, even to a spinnaker she carried, she was making the best of the little breeze. I tried to read her name, but the vessel jibed sharply as though the hands of the man at the wheel had suddenly dropped the helm—and then with equal abruptness swung back to her course. The stern came In sight, and on it I read Brunhilda.
"Something veree wrong I think there, sair," the Portuguese said in his curious English. "The man on deck I know. He is captain and owner of the Br-rwun'ild. His name Olaf Huldricksson, what you say—Norwegian. He is eithair veree sick or veree tired, but I do not understand where is the crew and the starb'd boat is gone."
We were now nearly abreast and a scant five hundred yards away. The engine of the Suwarna died and the Tonga boys leaped to one of the boats.
"You Olaf Huldricksson!" shouted Da Costa. "What's a matter wit' you?"
"Wait!" I cried. I ran into my cabin, grasped my emergency medical kit and climbed down the rope ladder. The two Tonga boys bent to the oars. We reached the side and Da Costa and I each seized a lanyard dangling from the stays and swung ourselves swiftly on board. Da Costa approached Huldricksson softly.
"What's the matter, Olaf?" he began and then was silent, looking down at the wheel. My gaze followed his and we shrank together involuntarily. For the hands of Huldricksson were lashed fast to the spokes of the wheel by thongs of thin, strong cord. They had been bound so tightly that they were swollen and black. The thongs had bitten so into the sinewy wrists that they were hidden in the outraged flesh, cutting so deeply that blood fell, slow drop by drop, at his feet. We sprang toward him, reaching out hands to his fetters to loose them. Even as we touched them, Huldricksson grew rigid with anger that had in it something diabolic. He aimed a vicious kick at me and then another at Da Costa which sent the Portuguese tumbling into the scuppers.
"Let be!" croaked Huldricksson; his voice was as thick and lifeless as though forced from a dead throat, and I saw that his lips were cracked and dry and his parched tongue was black. "Let be! Go! Let be!" The words beat upon the ears heavily, painfully. It was the dead alive and speaking!
"I go below," said Da Costa nervously. "His wife, his little Freda, they are always wit' him. You wait." He darted down the companionway and was gone. Huldricksson suddenly was silent, slumping down over the wheel, forgetting us.
Da Costa's head appeared at the top of the companion steps.
"There is nobody, nobody," he said. "I do not understan'."
Then Olaf Huldricksson opened his dry lips again and as he spoke a thrill ran though me, stopping my heart.
"˜The sparkling devil took them!" croaked Olaf Huldricksson. "The sparkling devil took them! Took my Helma and my little Freda! The sparkling devil came down from the moon and took them!"
It was with utmost difficulty that we loosed the thongs, but at last it was done.
WE RIGGED a little swing and the Tonga boys slung the great inert body over the side into the dory. Soon we had Huldricksson in my bunk. De Costa sent half his crew over to the sloop in charge of the Cantonese. They took in all sail, stripping Huldricksson's boat to the masts and then with the Brunhilda nosing quietly along after us at the end of a long hawser, one of the Tonga boys at her wheel, we re-resumed our way.
Suddenly I was aware of Da Costa's presence and turned. His unease was manifest and held, it seemed to me, a queer, furtive anxiety.
"What you think of Olaf, sair?" he asked. I shrugged my shoulders. "You think he killed his woman and his babee?" he went on. "You think he crazee and killed all?"
"Nonsense, Da Costa," I answered. "You saw the boat was gone. His crew mutinied and tied him up the way that you saw."
Da Costa shook his head slowly. "No," he said. "No. The crew did not. Nobody there on board when Olaf was tied."
"What!" I cried, startled. "What do you mean?"
"I mean," he said slowly, "that Olaf tie himself!"
I bent over the sleeper. On his face was no trace of that unholy mingling of opposites, of mingled joy and fear, that ˜the Dweller stamped upon its victims. But with Da Costa's revelations the security I had felt in my theory of the prisoned wrists crumbled. Huldricksson's words came back to me—"The sparkling devil took them!" Nay, they had been even more explicit—"The sparkling devil that came down from the moon!"
They sank upon my heart like weights, carrying subconscious conviction that resisted all my efforts to dismiss. I lifted the sheet from Huldricksson and went over his body minutely, turning it from side to side. The Norseman was, as I have said, a giant, and his mighty, muscled form was clean and white as a girl's. Nowhere was there a trace of that cold, white stain which was the mark of the touch of the Dweller and that had been, on Throckmartin, a shining cincture girdling the body just below the heart.
Throckmartin had believed, and I had believed with him, that the thing I had gone forth to find had no power outside the islet of the moon door and that it was only by virtue of that mark it had been enabled to follow him. But was this true? Huldricksson had been steering straight for Ponape, not away from it—and there was no trace of the Nan-Matal's dread mystery upon him.
As I sat thinking, the cabin grew suddenly dark, and from above came a shouting and patter of feet. Down upon us swept one of the abrupt, violent squalls that are met with in those latitudes. I lashed Huldricksson fast in the berth and ran up on deck.
A half hour passed. Then the squall died as quickly as it had arisen. The sea quieted. Over in the west, from beneath the tattered, flying edge of the storm, dropped the setting sun.
I watched it, and rubbed my eyes and stared again. For over its flaming, portal something huge and black moved, like a gigantic beckoning finger!
Da Costa had seen it, too, and he turned the Suwarna straight toward the descending orb and its strange shadows. As we approached we saw it was a little mass of wreckage and that the. beckoning finger was a wing of canvas, sticking up and swaying with the motion of the waves. On the highest point of the wreckage sat a tall figure calmly smoking a cigarette.
We brought the Suwarna to, dropped a boat, and with myself as coxswain pulled toward what I knew now was a wrecked hydroplane. Its occupant took a long puff at his cigarette, waved a cheerful hand, and shouted a reassuring greeting. And just as he did so a great wave raised itself up behind him, took the wreckage, tossed it high in a swelter of foam, and passed on. When we had steadied our boat, where wreck and man had been was—nothing.
I scanned the water with anxious eyes. Who had been this debonair castaway, and from whence in these far seas had dropped his plane? There came a tug at the side of our boat, two muscular brown hands gripped it close to my left, and a sleek, black, wet head showed its top between them. Two bright blue eyes that held deep within them a laughing deviltry looked into mine, and a long, lithe body drew itself gently over the thwart and seated its dripping self at my feet.
"Much obliged," said this man from the sea. "I knew somebody was sure to come along when the O'Keefe banshee didn't show up."
"The what?" I asked in amazement.
"The O'Keefe banshee. Oh, yes, pardon me, I'm Larry O'Keefe. It's a far way from Ireland, but not too far for the O'Keefe banshee to travel if the O'Keefe was going to kick in."
I looked again at my astonishing rescue. He seemed perfectly serious, and later I was to know how exasperatingly, naïvely, and entirely serious he was on that subject.
"Have you a cigarette?" said Larry O'Keefe. "Mine went out," he added with a grin, as he reached a moist hand out for the little cylinder, took it, lighted it on the match I struck for him, and then gazed at me frankly and with manifest curiosity. I returned the gaze as frankly.
I saw a lean, intelligent face whose fighting jaw was softened by the wistfulness of the clean-cut lips and the roguishness that lay side by side with the deviltry in the laughing blue eyes. Nose of a thoroughbred with the suspicion of a tilt. A long, well-knit, slender figure that I knew must have all the strength of fine steel; the uniform of a lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps of Britain's navy.
He laughed, stretched out a firm hand, and gripped mine.
"Thank you ever so much, old man."
I liked Larry O'Keefe from the beginning, but I did not dream how that liking was to be forged into man's strong love for man by fires which souls such as his and mine—and yours who read this—could never dream.
Larry! Larry O'Keefe, where are you now with yourand banshee, your heart of a child, your laughing blue eyes, and your fearless soul? Shall I ever see you again, Larry O'Keefe, dear to me as some best-beloved younger brother? Larry!