THE LOST CONTINENT
C. J. Cutliffe Hyne
PREFATORY: THE LEGATEES OF DEUCALION 1 MY RECALL 2 BACK TO ATLANTIS 3 A RIVAL NAVY 4 THE WELCOME OF PHORENICE 5 ZAEMON'S CURSE 6 THE BITERS OF THE CITY WALLS 7 THE BITERS OF THE WALLS (FURTHER ACCOUNT) 8 THE PREACHER FROM THE MOUNTAINS 9 PHORENICE, GODDESS 10 A WOOING 11 AN AFFAIR WITH THE BARBAROUS FISHERS 12 THE DRUG OF OUR LADY THE MOON 13 THE BURYING ALIVE OF NAIS 14 AGAIN THE GODS MAKE CHANGE 15 ZAEMON'S SUMMONS 16 SIEGE OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN 17 NAIS THE REGAINED 18 STORM OF THE SACRED MOUNTAIN 19 DESTRUCTION OF THE ATLANTIS 20 ON THE BOSOM OF THE DEEP
THE LEGATEES OF DEUCALION
We were both of us not a little stiff as the result of sleeping out in the open all that night, for even in Grand Canary the dew-fall and the comparative chill of darkness are not to be trifled with. For myself on these occasions I like a bit of a run as an early refresher. But here on this rough ground in the middle of the island there were not three yards of level to be found, and so as Coppinger proceeded to go through some sort of dumb-bell exercises with a couple of lumps of bristly lava, I followed his example. Coppinger has done a good deal of roughing it in his time, but being a doctor of medicine amongst other things—he takes out a new degree of some sort on an average every other year—he is great on health theories, and practises them like a religion.
There had been rain two days before, and as there was still a bit of stream trickling along at the bottom of the barranca, we went down there and had a wash, and brushed our teeth. Greatest luxury imaginable, a toothbrush, on this sort of expedition.
"Now," said Coppinger when we had emptied our pockets, "there's precious little grub left, and it's none the better for being carried in a local Spanish newspaper."
"Yours is mostly tobacco ashes."
"It'll get worse if we leave it. We've a lot more bad scrambling ahead of us."
That was obvious. So we sat down beside the stream there at the bottom of the barranca, and ate up all of what was left. It was a ten-mile tramp to the fonda at Santa Brigida, where we had set down our traps; and as Coppinger wanted to take a lot more photographs and measurements before we left this particular group of caves, it was likely we should be pretty sharp set before we got our next meal, and our next taste of the PATRON'S splendid old country wine. My faith! If only they knew down in the English hotels in Las Palmas what magnificent wines one could get—with diplomacy—up in some of the mountain villages, the old vintage would become a thing of the past in a week.
Now to tell the truth, the two mummies he had gathered already quite satisfied my small ambition. The goatskins in which they were sewn up were as brittle as paper, and the poor old things themselves gave out dust like a puffball whenever they were touched. But you know what Coppinger is. He thought he'd come upon traces of an old Guanche university, or sacred college, or something of that kind, like the one there is on the other side of the island, and he wouldn't be satisfied till he'd ransacked every cave in the whole face of the cliff. He'd plenty of stuff left for the flashlight thing, and twenty-eight more films in his kodak, and said we might as well get through with the job then as make a return journey all on purpose. So he took the crowbar, and I shouldered the rope, and away we went up to the ridge of the cliff, where we had got such a baking from the sun the day before.
Of course these caves were not easy to come at, or else they would have been raided years before. Coppinger, who on principle makes out he knows all about these things, says that in the old Guanche days they had ladders of goatskin rope which they could pull up when they were at home, and so keep out undesirable callers; and as no other plan occurs to me, perhaps he may be right. Anyway the mouths of the caves were in a more or less level row thirty feet below the ridge of the cliff, and fifty feet above the bottom; and Spanish curiosity doesn't go in much where it cannot walk.
Now laddering such caves from below would have been cumbersome, but a light knotted rope is easily carried, and though it would have been hard to climb up this, our plan was to descend on each cave mouth from above, and then slip down to the foot of the cliffs, and start again AB INITIO for the next.
Coppinger is plucky enough, and he has a good head on a height, but there is no getting over the fact that he is portly and nearer fifty than forty-five. So you can see he must have been pretty keen. Of course I went first each time, and got into the cave mouth, and did what I could to help him in; but when you have to walk down a vertical cliff face fly-fashion, with only a thin bootlace of a rope for support, it is not much real help the man below can give, except offer you his best wishes.
I wanted to save him as much as I could, and as the first three caves I climbed to were small and empty, seeming to be merely store-places, I asked him to take them for granted, and save himself the rest. But he insisted on clambering down to each one in person, and as he decided that one of my granaries was a prison, and another a pot-making factory, and another a schoolroom for young priests, he naturally said he hadn't much reliance on my judgment, and would have to go through the whole lot himself. You know what these thorough-going archaeologists are for imagination.
But as the day went on, and the sun rose higher, Coppinger began clearly to have had enough of it, though he was very game, and insisted on going on much longer than was safe. I must say I didn't like it. You see the drop was seldom less than eighty feet from the top of the cliffs. However, at last he was forced to give it up. I suggested marching off to Santa Brigida forthwith, but he wouldn't do that. There were three more cave-openings to be looked into, and if I wouldn't do them for him, he would have to make another effort to get there himself. He tried to make out he was conferring a very great favour on me by offering to take a report solely from my untrained observation, but I flatly refused to look at it in that light. I was pretty tired also; I was soaked with perspiration from the heat; my head ached from the violence of the sun; and my hands were cut raw with the rope.
Coppinger might be tired, but he was still enthusiastic. He tried to make me enthusiastic also. "Look here," he said, "there's no knowing what you may find up there, and if you do lay hands on anything, remember it's your own. I shall have no claim whatever."
"Very kind of you, but I've got no use for any more mummies done up in goatskin bags."
"Bah! That's not a burial cave up there. Don't you know the difference yet in the openings? Now, be a good fellow. It doesn't follow that because we have drawn all the rest blank, you won't stumble across a good find for yourself up there."
"Oh, very well," I said, as he seemed so set on it; and away I stumbled over the fallen rocks, and along the ledge, and then scrambled up by that fissure in the cliff which saved us the two-mile round which we had had to take at first. I wrenched out the crowbar, and jammed it down in a new place, and then away I went over the side, with hands smarting worse at every new grip of the rope. It was an awkward job swinging into the cave mouth because the rock above overhung, or else (what came to the same thing) it had broken away below; but I managed it somehow, although I landed with an awkward thump on my back, and at the same time I didn't let go the rope. It wouldn't do to have lost the rope then: Coppinger couldn't have flicked it into me from where he was below.
Now from the first glance I could see that this cave was of different structure to the others. They were for the most part mere dens, rounded out anyhow; this had been faced up with cutting tools, so that all the angles were clean, and the sides smooth and flat. The walls inclined inwards to the roof, reminding me of an architecture I had seen before but could not recollect where, and moreover there were several rooms connected up with passages. I was pleased to find that the other cave-openings which Coppinger wanted me to explore were merely the windows or the doorways of two of these other rooms.
Of inscriptions or markings on the walls there was not a trace, though I looked carefully, and except for bats the place was entirely bare. I lit a cigarette and smoked it through—Coppinger always thinks one is slurring over work if it is got through too quickly—and then I went to the entrance where the rope was, and leaned out, and shouted down my news.
He turned up a very anxious face. "Have you searched it thoroughly?" he bawled back.
"Of course I have. What do you think I've been doing all this time?"
"No, don't come down yet. Wait a minute. I say, old man, do wait a minute. I'm making fast the kodak and the flashlight apparatus on the end of the rope. Pull them up, and just make me half a dozen exposures, there's a good fellow."
"Oh, all right," I said, and hauled the things up, and got them inside. The photographs would be absolutely dull and uninteresting, but that wouldn't matter to Coppinger. He rather preferred them that way. One has to be careful about halation in photographing these dark interiors, but there was a sort of ledge like a seat by the side of each doorway, and so I lodged the camera on that to get a steady stand, and snapped off the flashlight from behind and above.
I got pictures of four of the chambers this way, and then came to one where the ledge was higher and wider. I put down the camera, wedged it level with scraps of stone, and then sat down myself to recharge the flashlight machine. But the moment my weight got on that ledge, there was a sharp crackle, and down I went half a dozen inches.
Of course I was up again pretty sharply, and snapped up the kodak just as it was going to slide off to the ground. I will confess, too, I was feeling pleased. Here at any rate was a Guanche cupboard of sorts, and as they had taken the trouble to hermetically seal it with cement, the odds were that it had something inside worth hiding. At first there was nothing to be seen but a lot of dust and rubble, so I lit a bit of candle and cleared this away. Presently, however, I began to find that I was shelling out something that was not cement. It chipped away, in regular layers, and when I took it to the daylight I found that each layer was made up of two parts. One side was shiny staff that looked like talc, and on this was smeared a coating of dark toffee-coloured material, that might have been wax. The toffee-coloured surface was worked over with some kind of pattern.
Now I do not profess to any knowledge on these matters, and as a consequence took what Coppinger had told me about Guanche habits and acquirements as more or less true. For instance, he had repeatedly impressed upon me that this old people could not write, and having this in my memory, I did not guess that the patterns scribed through the wax were letters in some obsolete character, which, if left to myself, probably I should have done. But still at the same time I came to the conclusion that the stuff was worth looting, and so set to work quarrying it out with the heel of my boot and a pocket-knife.
The sheets were all more or less stuck together, and so I did not go in for separating them farther. They fitted exactly to the cavity in which they were stored, but by smashing down its front I was able to get at the foot of them, and then I hacked away through the bottom layers with the knife till I got the bulk out in one solid piece. It measured some twenty inches by fifteen, by fifteen, but it was not so heavy as it looked, and when I had taken the remaining photographs, I lowered it down to Coppinger on the end of the rope.
There was nothing more to do in the caves then, so I went down myself next. The lump of sheets was on the ground, and Coppinger was on all fours beside it. He was pretty nearly mad with excitement.
"What is it?" I asked him.
"I don't know yet. But it is the most valuable find ever made in the Canary Islands, and it's yours, you unappreciative beggar; at least what there is left of it. Oh, man, man, you've smashed up the beginning, and you've smashed up the end of some history that is probably priceless. It's my own fault. I ought to have known better than set an untrained man to do important exploring work."
"I should say it's your fault if anything's gone wrong. You said there was no such thing as writing known to these ancient Canarios, and I took your word for it. For anything I knew the stuff might have been something to eat."
"It isn't Guanche work at all," said he testily. "You ought to have known that from the talc. Great heavens, man, have you no eyes? Haven't you seen the general formation of the island? Don't you know there's no talc here?"
"I'm no geologist. Is this imported literature then?"
"Of course. It's Egyptian: that's obvious at a glance. Though how it's got here I can't tell yet. It isn't stuff you can read off like a newspaper. The character's a variant on any of those that have been discovered so far. And as for this waxy stuff spread over the talc, it's unique. It's some sort of a mineral, I think: perhaps asphalt. It doesn't scratch up like animal wax. I'll analyse that later. Why they once invented it, and then let such a splendid notion drop out of use, is just a marvel. I could stay gloating over this all day."
"Well," I said, "if it's all the same for you, I'd rather gloat over a meal. It's a good ten miles hard going to the fonda, and I'm as hungry as a hawk already. Look here, do you know it is four o'clock already? It takes longer than you think climbing down to each of these caves, and then getting up again for the next."
Coppinger spread his coat on the ground, and wrapped the lump of sheets with tender care, but would not allow it to be tied with a rope for fear of breaking more of the edges. He insisted on carrying it himself too, and did so for the larger part of the way to Santa Brigida, and it was only when he was within an ace of dropping himself with sheer tiredness that he condescended to let me take my turn. He was tolerably ungracious about it too. "I suppose you may as well carry the stuff," he snapped, "seeing that after all it's your own."
Personally, when we got to the fonda, I had as good a dinner as was procurable, and a bottle of that old Canary wine, and turned into bed after a final pipe. Coppinger dined also, but I have reason to believe he did not sleep much. At any rate I found him still poring over the find next morning, and looking very heavy-eyed, but brimming with enthusiasm.
"Do you know," he said, "that you've blundered upon the most valuable historical manuscript that the modern world has ever yet seen? Of course, with your clumsy way of getting it out, you've done an infinity of damage. For instance, those top sheets you shelled away and spoiled, contained probably an absolutely unique account of the ancient civilisation of Yucatan."
"Where's that, anyway?"
"In the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. It's all ruins to-day, but once it was a very prosperous colony of the Atlanteans."
"Never heard of them. Oh yes, I have though. They were the people Herodotus wrote about, didn't he? But I thought they were mythical."
"They were very real, and so was Atlantis, the continent where they lived, which lay just north of the Canaries here."
"What's that crocodile sort of thing with wings drawn in the margin?"
"Some sort of beast that lived in those bygone days. The pages are full of them. That's a cave-tiger. And that's some sort of colossal bat. Thank goodness he had the sense to illustrate fully, the man who wrote this, or we should never have been able to reconstruct the tale, or at any rate we could not have understood half of it. Whole species have died out since this was written, just as a whole continent has been swept away and three civilisations quenched. The worst of it is, it was written by a highly-educated man who somewhat naturally writes a very bad fist. I've hammered at it all the night through, and have only managed to make out a few sentences here and there"—he rubbed his hands appreciatively. "It will take me a year's hard work to translate this properly."
"Every man to his taste. I'm afraid my interest in the thing wouldn't last as long as that. But how did it get there? Did your ancient Egyptian come to Grand Canary for the good of his lungs, and write it because he felt dull up in that cave?"
"I made a mistake there. The author was not an Egyptian. It was the similarity of the inscribed character which misled me. The book was written by one Deucalion, who seems to have been a priest or general—or perhaps both—and he was an Atlantean. How it got there, I don't know yet. Probably that was told in the last few pages, which a certain vandal smashed up with his pocketknife, in getting them away from the place where they were stowed."
"That's right, abuse me. Deucalion you say? There was a Deucalion in the Greek mythology. He was one of the two who escaped from the Flood: their Noah, in fact."
"The swamping of the continent of Atlantis might very well correspond to the Flood."
"Is there a Pyrrha then? She was Deucalion's wife."
"I haven't come across her yet. But there's a Phorenice, who may be the same. She seems to have been the reigning Empress, as far as I can make out at present."
I looked with interest at illustrations in the margin. They were quite understandable, although the perspective was all wrong. "Weird beasts they seem to have had knocking about the country in those days. Whacking big size too, if one may judge. By Jove, that'll be a cave-tiger trying to puff down a mammoth. I shouldn't care to have lived in those days."
"Probably they had some way of fighting the creatures. However, that will show itself as I get along with the translation." He looked at his watch—"I suppose I ought to be ashamed of myself, but I haven't been to bed. Are you going out?"
"I shall drive back to Las Palmas. I promised a man to have a round at golf this afternoon."
"Very well, see you at dinner. I hope they've sent back my dress shirts from the wash. O, lord! I am sleepy."
I left him going up to bed, and went outside and ordered a carriage to take me down, and there I may say we parted for a considerable time. A cable was waiting for me in the hotel at Las Palmas to go home for business forthwith, and there was a Liverpool boat in the harbour which I just managed to catch as she was steaming out. It was a close thing, and the boatmen made a small fortune out of my hurry.
Now Coppinger was only an hotel acquaintance, and as I was up to the eyes in work when I got back to England, I'm afraid I didn't think very much more about him at the time. One doesn't with people one just meets casually abroad like that. And it must have been at least a year later that I saw by a paragraph in one of the papers, that he had given the lump of sheets to the British Museum, and that the estimated worth of them was ten thousand pounds at the lowest valuation.
Well, this was a bit of revelation, and as he had so repeatedly impressed on me that the things were mine by right of discovery, I wrote rather a pointed note to him mentioning that he seemed to have been making rather free with my property. Promptly came back a stilted letter beginning, "Doctor Coppinger regrets" and so on, and with it the English translation of the wax-upon-talc MSS. He "quite admitted" my claim, and "trusted that the profits of publication would be a sufficient reimbursement for any damage received."
Now I had no idea that he would take me unpleasantly like this, and wrote back a pretty warm reply to that effect; but the only answer I got to this was through a firm of solicitors, who stated that all further communications with Dr. Coppinger must be made through them.
I will say here publicly that I regret the line he has taken over the matter; but as the affair has gone so far, I am disposed to follow out his proposition. Accordingly the old history is here printed; the credit (and the responsibility) of the translation rests with Dr. Coppinger; and whatever revenue accrues from readers, goes to the finder of the original talc-upon-wax sheets, myself.
If there is a further alteration in this arrangement, it will be announced publicly at a later date. But at present this appears to be most unlikely.
1. MY RECALL
The public official reception was over. The sentence had been read, the name of Phorenice, the Empress, adored, and the new Viceroy installed with all that vast and ponderous ceremonial which had gained its pomp and majesty from the ages. Formally, I had delivered up the reins of my government; formally, Tatho had seated himself on the snake-throne, and had put over his neck the chain of gems which symbolised the supreme office; and then, whilst the drums and the trumpets made their proclamation of clamour, he had risen to his feet, for his first state progress round that gilded council chamber as Viceroy of the Province of Yucatan.
With folded arms and bended head, I followed him between the glittering lines of soldiers, and the brilliant throng of courtiers, and chiefs, and statesmen. The roof-beams quivered to the cries of "Long Live Tatho!" "Flourish the Empress!" which came forth as in duty bound, and the new ruler acknowledged the welcome with stately inclinations of the head. In turn he went to the three lesser thrones of the lesser governors—in the East, the North, and the South, and received homage from each as the ritual was; and I, the man whom his coming had deposed, followed with the prescribed meekness in his train.
It was a hard task, but we who hold the higher offices learn to carry before the people a passionless face. Once, twenty years before, these same fine obeisances had been made to me; now the Gods had seen fit to make fortune change. But as I walked bent and humbly on behind the heels of Tatho, though etiquette forbade noisy salutations to myself, it could not inhibit kindly glances, and these came from every soldier, every courtier, and every chief who stood there in that gilded hall, and they fell upon me very gratefully. It is not often the fallen meet such tender looks.
The form goes, handed down from immemorial custom, that on these great ceremonial days of changing a ruler, those of the people being present may bring forward petitions and requests; may make accusations against their retiring head with sure immunity from his vengeance; or may state their own private theories for the better government of the State in the future. I think it may be pardoned to my vanity if I record that not a voice was raised against me, or against any of the items of my twenty years of rule. Nor did any speak out for alterations in the future. Yes, even though we made the circuit for the three prescribed times, all present showed their approval in generous silence.
Then, one behind the other, the new Viceroy and the old, we marched with formal step over golden tiles of that council hall beneath the pyramid, and the great officers of state left their stations and joined in our train; and at the farther wall we came to the door of those private chambers which an hour ago had been mine own.
Ah, well! I had no home now in any of those wondrous cities of Yucatan, and I could not help feeling a bitterness, though in sooth I should have been thankful enough to return to the Continent of Atlantis with my head still in its proper station.
Tatho gave his formal summons of "Open ye to the Viceroy," which the ritual commands, and the slaves within sent the massive stone valves of the door gaping wide. Tatho entered, I at his heels; the others halted, sending valedictions from the threshold; and the valves of the door clanged on the lock behind us. We passed on to the chamber beyond, and then, when for the first time we were alone together, and the forced etiquette of courts was behind us, the new Viceroy turned with meekly folded arms, and bowed low before me.
"Deucalion," he said, "believe me that I have not sought this office. It was thrust upon me. Had I not accepted, my head would have paid forfeit, and another man—your enemy—would have been sent out as viceroy in your place. The Empress does not permit that her will shall ever be questioned."
"My friend," I made answer, "my brother in all but blood, there is no man living in all Atlantis or her territories to whom I had liefer hand over my government. For twenty years now have I ruled this country of Yucatan, and Mexico beyond, first under the old King, and then as minister to this new Empress. I know my colony like a book. I am intimate with all her wonderful cities, with their palaces, their pyramids, and their people. I have hunted the beasts and the savages in the forests. I have built roads, and made the rivers so that they will carry shipping. I have fostered the arts and crafts like a merchant; I have discoursed, three times each day, the cult of the Gods with mine own lips. Through evil years and through good have I ruled here, striving only for the prosperity of the land and the strengthening of Atlantis, and I have grown to love the peoples like a father. To you I bequeath them, Tatho, with tender supplications for their interests."
"It is not I that can carry on Deucalion's work with Deucalion's power, but rest content, my friend, that I shall do my humble best to follow exactly on in your footsteps. Believe me, I came out to this government with a thousand regrets, but I would have died sooner than take your place had I known how vigorously the supplanting would trouble you."
"We are alone here," I said, "away from the formalities of formal assemblies, and a man may give vent to his natural self without fear of tarnishing a ceremony. Your coming was something of the suddenest. Till an hour ago, when you demanded audience, I had thought to rule on longer; and even now I do not know for what cause I am deposed."
"The proclamation said: 'We relieve our well-beloved Deucalion of his present service, because we have great need of his powers at home in our kingdom of Atlantis.'"
"A mere formality."
Tatho looked uneasily round the hangings of the chamber, and drew me with him to its centre, and lowered his voice.
"I do not think so," he whispered. "I believe she has need of you. There are troublous times on hand, and Phorenice wants the ablest men in the kingdom ready to her call."
"You may speak openly," I said, "and without fear of eavesdroppers. We are in the heart of the pyramid here, built in every way by a man's length of solid stone. Myself, I oversaw the laying of every course. And besides, here in Yucatan, we have not the niceties of your old world diplomacy, and do not listen, because we count it shame to do so."
Tatho shrugged his shoulders. "I acted only according to mine education. At home, a loose tongue makes a loose head, and there are those whose trade it is to carry tales. Still, what I say is this: The throne shakes, and Phorenice sees the need of sturdy props. So she has sent this proclamation."
"But why come to me? It is twenty years since I sailed to this colony, and from that day I have not returned to Atlantis once. I know little of the old country's politics. What small parcel of news drifts out to us across the ocean, reads with slender interest here. Yucatan is another world, my dear Tatho, as you in the course of your government will learn, with new interests, new people, new everything. To us here, Atlantis is only a figment, a shadow, far away across the waters. It is for this new world of Yucatan that I have striven through all these years."
"If Deucalion has small time to spare from his government for brooding over his fatherland, Atlantis, at least, has found leisure to admire the deeds of her brilliant son. Why, sir, over yonder at home, your name carries magic with it. When you and I were lads together, it was the custom in the colleges to teach that the men of the past were the greatest this world has ever seen; but to-day this teaching is changed. It is Deucalion who is held up as the model and example. Mothers name their sons Deucalion, as the most valuable birth-gift they can make. Deucalion is a household word. Indeed, there is only one name that is near to it in familiarity."
"You trouble me," I said, frowning. "I have tried to do my duty for its own sake, and for the country's sake, not for the pattings and fondlings of the vulgar. And besides, if there are names to be in every one's mouth, they should be the names of the Gods."
Tatho shrugged his shoulders. "The Gods? They occupy us very little these latter years. With our modern science, we have grown past the tether of the older Gods, and no new one has appeared. No, my Lord Deucalion, if it were merely the Gods who were your competitors on men's lips, your name would be a thousand times the better known."
"Of mere human names," I said, "the name of this new Empress should come first in Atlantis, our lord the old King being now dead."
"She certainly would have it so," replied Tatho, and there was something in his tone which made me see that more was meant behind the words. I drew him to one of the marble seats, and bent myself familiarly towards him. "I am speaking," I said, "not to the new Viceroy of Yucatan, but to my old friend Tatho, a member of the Priests' Clan, like myself, with whom I worked side by side in a score of the smaller home governments, in hamlets, in villages, in smaller towns, in greater towns, as we gained experience in war and knowledge in the art of ruling people, and so tediously won our promotion. I am speaking in Tatho's private abode, that was mine own not two hours since, and I would have an answer with that plainness which we always then used to one another."
The new Viceroy sighed whimsically. "I almost forget how to speak in plain words now," he said. "We have grown so polished in these latter days, that mere bald truth would be hissed as indelicate. But for the memory of those early years, when we expended as much law and thought over the ownership of a hay-byre as we should now over the fate of a rebellious city, I will try and speak plain to you even now, Deucalion. Tell me, old friend, what is it?"
"What of this new Empress?"
He frowned. "I might have guessed your subject," he said.
"Then speak upon it. Tell me of all the changes that have been made. What has this Phorenice done to make her throne unstable in Atlantis?"
Tatho frowned still. "If I did not know you to be as honest as our Lord the Sun, your questions would carry mischief with them. Phorenice has a short way with those who are daring enough to discuss her policies for other purpose than politely to praise them."
"You can leave me ignorant if you wish," I said with a touch of chill. This Tatho seemed to be different from the Tatho I had known at home, Tatho my workmate, Tatho who had read with me in the College of Priests, who had run with me in many a furious charge, who had laboured with me so heavily that the peoples under us might prosper. But he was quick enough to see my change of tone.
"You force me back to my old self," he said with a half smile, "though it is hard enough to forget the caution one has learned during the last twenty years, even when speaking with you. Still, whatever may have happened to the rest of us, it is clear to see that you at least have not changed, and, old friend, I am ready to trust you with my life if you ask it. In fact, you do ask me that very thing when you tell me to speak all I know of Phorenice."
I nodded. This was more like the old times, when there was full confidence between us. "The Gods will it now that I return to Atlantis," I said, "and what happens after that the Gods alone know. But it would be of service to me if I could land on her shores with some knowledge of this Phorenice, for at present I am as ignorant concerning her as some savage from Europe or mid-Africa."
"What would you have me tell?"
"Tell all. I know only that she, a woman, reigns, whereby the ancient law of the land, a man should rule; that she is not even of the Priestly Clan from which the law says all rulers must be drawn; and that, from what you say, she has caused the throne to totter. The throne was as firm as the everlasting hills in the old King's day, Tatho."
"History has moved with pace since then, and Phorenice has spurred it. You know her origin?"
"I know only the exact little I have told you."
"She was a swineherd's daughter from the mountains, though this is never even whispered now, as she has declared herself to be a daughter of the Gods, with a miraculous birth and upbringing. As she has decreed it a sacrilege to question this parentage, and has ordered to be burnt all those that seem to recollect her more earthly origin, the fable passes current for truth. You see the faith I put in you, Deucalion, by telling you what you wish to learn."
"There has always been trust between us."
"I know; but this habit of suspicion is hard to cast off, even with you. However, let me put your good faith between me and the torture further. Zaemon, you remember, was governor of the swineherd's province, and Zaemon's wife saw Phorenice and took her away to adopt and bring up as her own. It is said that the swineherd and his woman objected; perhaps they did; anyway, I know they died; and Phorenice was taught the arts and graces, and brought up as a daughter of the Priestly Clan."
"But still she was an adopted daughter only," I objected.
"The omission of the 'adopted' was her will at an early age," said Tatho dryly, "and she learnt early to have her wishes carried into fact. It was notorious that before she had grown to fifteen years she ruled not only the women of the household, but Zaemon also, and the province that was beyond Zaemon."
"Zaemon was learned," I said, "and a devout follower of the Gods, and searcher into the higher mysteries; but, as a ruler, he was always a flabby fellow."
"I do not say that opportunities have not come usefully in Phorenice's way, but she has genius as well. For her to have raised herself at all from what she was, was remarkable. Not one woman out of a thousand, placed as she was, would have grown to be aught higher than a mere wife of some sturdy countryman, who was sufficiently simple to care nothing for pedigree. But look at Phorenice: it was her whim to take exercise as a man-at-arms and practise with all the utensils of war; and then, before any one quite knows how or why it happened, a rebellion had broken out in the province, and here was she, a slip of a girl, leading Zaemon's troops."
"Zaemon, when I knew him, was a mere derision in the field."
"Hear me on. Phorenice put down the rebellion in masterly fashion, and gave the conquered a choice between sword and service. They fell into her ranks at once, and were faithful to her from that moment. I tell you, Deucalion, there is a marvellous fascination about the woman."
"Her present historian seems to have felt it."
"Of course I have. Every one who sees her comes under her spell. And frankly, I am in love with her also, and look upon my coming here as detestable exile. Every one near to Phorenice, high and low, loves her just the same, even though they know it may be her whim to send them to execution next minute."
Perhaps I let my scorn of this appear.
"You feel contempt for our weakness? You were always a strong man, Deucalion."
"At any rate you see me still unmarried. I have found no time to palter with the fripperies of women."
"Ah, but these colonists here are crude and unfascinating. Wait till you see the ladies of the court, my ascetic."
"It comes to my mind," I said dryly, "that I lived in Atlantis before I came out here, and at that time I used to see as much of court life as most men. Yet then, also, I felt no inducement to marry."
Tatho chuckled. "Atlantis has changed so that you would hardly know the country to-day. A new era has come over everything, especially over the other sex. Well do I remember the women of the old King's time, how monstrous uncomely they were, how little they knew how to walk or carry themselves, how painfully barbaric was their notion of dress. I dare swear that your ladies here in Yucatan are not so provincial to-day as ours were then. But you should see them now at home. They are delicious. And above all in charm is the Empress. Oh, Deucalion, you shall see Phorenice in all her glorious beauty and her magnificence one of these fine days soon, and believe me you will go down on your knees and repent."
"I may see, and (because you say so) I may alter my life's ways. The Gods make all things possible. But for the present I remain as I am, celibate, and not wishful to be otherwise; and so in the meantime I would hear the continuance of your history."
"It is one long story of success. She deposed Zaemon from his government in name as well as in fact, and the news was spread, and the Priestly Clan rose in its wrath. The two neighbouring governors were bidden join forces, take her captive, and bring her for execution. Poor men! They tried to obey their orders; they attacked her surely enough, but in battle she could laugh at them. She killed both, and made some slaughter amongst their troops; and to those that remained alive and became her prisoners, she made her usual offer—the sword or service. Naturally they were not long over making their choice: to these common people one ruler is much the same as another: and so again her army was reinforced.
"Three times were bodies of soldiery sent against her, and three times was she victorious. The last was a final effort. Before, it had been customary to despise this adventuress who had sprung up so suddenly. But then the priests began to realise their peril; to see that the throne itself was in danger; and to know that if she were to be crushed, they would have to put forth their utmost. Every man who could carry arms was pressed into the service. Every known art of war was ordered to be put into employment. It was the largest army, and the best equipped army that Atlantis then had ever raised, and the Priestly Clan saw fit to put in supreme command their general, Tatho."
"You!" I cried.
"Even myself, Deucalion. And mark you, I fought my utmost. I was not her creature then; and when I set out (because they wanted to spur me to the uttermost) the High Council of the priests pointed out my prospects. The King we had known so long, was ailing and wearily old; he was so wrapped up in the study of the mysteries, and the joy of closely knowing them, that earthly matters had grown nauseous to him; and at any time he might decide to die. The Priestly Clan uses its own discretion in the election of a new king, but it takes note of popular sentiment; and a general who at the critical time could come home victorious from a great campaign, which moreover would release a harassed people from the constant application of arms, would be the idol of the moment. These things were pointed out to me solemnly and in the full council."
"What! They promised you the throne?"
"Even that. So you see I set out with a high stake before me. Phorenice I had never seen, and I swore to take her alive, and give her to be the sport of my soldiery. I had a fine confidence in my own strategy then, Deucalion. But the old Gods, in whom I trusted then, remained old, taught me no new thing. I drilled and exercised my army according to the forms you and I learnt together, old comrade, and in many a tough fight found to serve well; I armed them with the choicest weapons we knew of then, with sling and mace, with bow and spear, with axe and knife, with sword and the throwing fire; their bodies I covered with metal plates; even their bellies I cared for, with droves of cattle driven in the rear of the fighting troops.
"But when the encounter came, they might have been men of straw for all the harm they did. Out of her own brain Phorenice had made fire-tubes that cast a dart which would kill beyond two bowshots, and the fashion in which she handled her troops dazzled me. They threatened us on one flank, they harassed us on the other. It was not war as we had been accustomed to. It was a newer and more deadly game, and I had to watch my splendid army eaten away as waves eat a sandhill. Never once did I get a chance of forcing close action. These new tactics that had come from Phorenice's invention, were beyond my art to meet or understand. We were eight to her one, and our close-packed numbers only made us so much the more easy for slaughter. A panic came, and those who could fled. Myself, I had no wish to go back and earn the axe that waits for the unsuccessful general. I tried to die there fighting where I stood. But death would not come. It was a fine melee, Deucalion, that last one."
"And so she took you?"
"I stood with three others back to back, with a ring of dead round us, and a ring of the enemy hemming us in. We taunted them to come on. But at hand-to-hand courtesies we had shown we could hold our own, and so they were calling for fire-tubes with which they could strike us down in safety from a distance. Then up came Phorenice. 'What is this to-do?' says she. 'We seek to kill Lord Tatho, who led against you,' say they. 'So that is Tatho?' says she. 'A fine figure of a man indeed, and a pretty fighter seemingly, after the old manner. Doubtless he is one who would acquire the newer method. See now Tatho,' says she, 'it is my custom to offer those I vanquish either the sword (which, believe me, was never nearer your neck than now) or service under my banner. Will you make a choice?'
"'Woman,' I said, 'fairest that ever I saw, finest general the world has ever borne, you tempt me sorely by your qualities, but there is a tradition in our Clan, that we should be true to the salt we eat. I am the King's man still, and so I can take no service from you.'
"'The King is dead,' says she. 'A runner has just brought the tidings, meaning them to have fallen into your hands. And I am the Empress.'
"'Who made you Empress?' I asked.
"'The same most capable hand that has given me this battle,' says she. 'It is a capable hand, as you have seen: it can be a kind hand also, as you may learn if you choose. With the King dead, Tatho is a masterless man now. Is Tatho in want of a mistress?'
"'Such a glorious mistress as you,' I said, 'Yes.' And from that moment, Deucalion, I have been her slave. Oh, you may frown; you may get up from this seat and walk away if you will. But I ask you this: keep back your worst judgment of me, old friend, till after you have seen Phorenice herself in the warm and lovely flesh. Then your own ears and your own senses will be my advocates, to win me back your old esteem."
2. BACK TO ATLANTIS
The words of Tatho were no sleeping draught for me that night. I began to think that I had made somewhat a mistake in wrapping myself up so entirely in my government of Yucatan, and not contriving to keep more in touch with events that were passing at home in Atlantis. For many years past it had been easy to see that the mariner folk who did traffic across the seas spoke with restraint, and that only what news the Empress pleased was allowed to ooze out beyond her borders. But, as I say, I was fully occupied with my work in the colony, and had no curiosity to pull away a veil intentionally placed. Besides, it has always been against my principles to put to the torture men who had received orders for silence from their superiors, merely that they shall break these orders for my private convenience.
However, the iron discipline of our Priestly Clan left me no choice of procedure. As was customary, I had been deprived of my office at a moment's notice. From that time on, all papers and authority belonged to my successor, and, although by courtesy I might be permitted to remain as a guest in the pyramid that had so recently been mine, to see another sunrise, it was clearly enjoined that I must leave the territory then at the topmost of my speed and hasten to report in Atlantis.
Tatho, to give him credit, was anxious to further my interests to the utmost in his power. He was by my side again before the dawn, putting all his resources at my disposal.
I had little enough to ask him. "A ship to take me home," I said, "and I shall be your debtor."
The request seemed to surprise him. "That you may certainly have if you wish it. But my ships are foul with the long passage, and are in need of a careen. If you take them, you will make a slow voyage of it to Atlantis. Why do you not take your own navy? The ships are in harbour now, for I saw them there when we came in. Brave ships they are too."
"But not mine. That navy belongs to Yucatan."
"Well, Deucalion, you are Yucatan; or, rather, you were yesterday, and have been these twenty years."
I saw what he meant, and the idea did not please me. I answered stiffly enough that the ships were owned by private merchants, or belonged to the State, and I could not claim so much as a ten-slave galley.
Tatho shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose you know your own policies best," he said, "though to me it seems but risky for a man who has attained to a position like yours and mine not to have provided himself with a stout navy of his own. One never knows when a recall may be sent, and, through lack of these precautions, a life's earnings may very well be lost in a dozen hours."
"I have no fear for mine," I said coldly.
"Of course not, because you know me to be your friend. But had another man been appointed to this vice-royalty, you might have been sadly shorn, Deucalion. It is not many fellows who can resist a snug hoard ready and waiting in the very coffers they have come to line."
"My Lord Tatho," I said, "it is clear to me that you and I have grown to be of different tastes. All of the hoard that I have made for myself in this colony, few men would covet. I have the poor clothes you see me in this moment, and a box of drugs such as I have found useful to the stomach. I possess also three slaves, two of them scribes and the third a sturdy savage from Europe, who cooks my victual and fills for me the bath. For my maintenance during my years of service, here, I have bled the State of a soldier's ration and nothing beyond; and if in my name any man has mulcted a creature in Yucatan of so much as an ounce of bronze, I request you as a last service to have that man hanged for me as a liar and a thief."
Tatho looked at me curiously. "I do not know whether I admire you most or whether I pity. I do not know whether to be astonished or to despise. We had heard of much of your uprightness over yonder in Atlantis, of your sternness and your justice, but I swear by the old Gods that no soul guessed you carried your fancy so far as this. Why, man, money is power. With money and the resources money can buy, nothing could stop a fellow like you; whilst without it you may be tripped up and trodden down irrevocably at the first puny reverse."
"The Gods will choose my fate."
"Possibly; but for mine, I prefer to nourish it myself. I tell you with frankness that I have not come here to follow in the pattern you have made for a vice-royalty. I shall govern Yucatan wisely and well to the best of my ability; but I shall govern it also for the good of Tatho, the viceroy. I have brought with me here my navy of eight ships and a personal bodyguard. There is my wife also, and her women and her slaves. All these must be provided for. And why indeed should it be otherwise? If a people is to be governed, it should be their privilege to pay handsomely for their prince."
"We shall not agree on this. You have the power now, and can employ it as you choose. If I thought it would be of any use, I should like to supplicate you most humbly to deal with lenience when you come to tax these people who are under you. They have grown very dear to me."
"I have disgusted you with me, and I am grieved for it. But even to retain your good opinion, Deucalion—which I value more than that of any man living—I cannot do here as you have done. It would be impossible, even if I wished it. You must not judge all other men by your own strong standard: a Tatho is by no means a colossus like a Deucalion. And besides, I have a wife and children, and they must be provided for, even if I neglect myself."
"Ah, there," I said, "it does seem that I possess the advantage. I have no wife, to clog me."
He caught up my word quickly. "It seems to me you have nothing that makes life worth living. You have neither wife, children, riches, cooks, retinue, dresses, nor anything else in proportion to your station. You will pardon my saying it, old comrade, but you are plaguey ignorant about some matters. For example, you do not know how to dine. During every day of a very weary voyage, I have promised myself when sitting before the meagre sea victual, that presently the abstinence would be more than repaid by Deucalion's welcoming feast. Oh, I tell you that feast was one of the vividest things that ever came before my eyes. And then when we get to the actuality, what was it? Why, a country farmer every day sits down to more delicate fare. You told me how it was prepared. Well, your savage from Europe may be lusty, and perchance is faithful, but he is a devil-possessed cook. Gods! I have lived better on a campaign.
"I know this is a colony here, without any of the home refinements; but if in the days to come, the deer of the forest, the fish of the stream, and the other resources of the place are not put to better use than heretofore, I shall see it my duty as ruler to fry some of the kitchen staff alive in grease so as to encourage better cookery. Gods! Deucalion, have you forgotten what it is to have a palate? And have you no esteem for your own dignity? Man, look at your clothes. You are garbed like a herdsman, and you have not a gaud or a jewel to brighten you."
"I eat," I said coldly, "when my hunger bids me, and I carry this one robe upon my person till it is worn out and needs replacement. The grossness of excessive banqueting, and the effeminacy of many clothes are attainments that never met my fancy. But I think we have talked here over long, and there seems little chance of our finding agreement. You have changed, Tatho, with the years, and perhaps I have changed also. These alterations creep imperceptibly into one's being as time advances. Let us part now, and, forgetting these present differences, remember only our friendship of twenty years agone. That for me, at any rate, has always had a pleasant savour when called up into the memory."
Tatho bowed his head. "So be it," he said.
"And I would still charge myself upon your bounty for that ship. Dawn cannot be far off now, and it is not decent that the man who has ruled here so long, should walk in daylight through the streets on the morning after his dismissal."
"So be it," said Tatho. "You shall have my poor navy. I could have wished that you had asked me something greater."
"Not the navy, Tatho; one small ship. Believe me, more is wasted."
"Now, there," said Tatho, "I shall act the tyrant. I am viceroy here now, and will have my way in this. You may go naked of all possessions: that I cannot help. But depart for Atlantis unattended, that you shall not."
And so, in fine, as the choice was set beyond me, it was in the "Bear," Tatho's own private ship, with all the rest of his navy sailing in escort, that I did finally make my transit.
But the start was not immediate. The vessels lay moored against the stone quays of the inner harbour, gutted of their stores, and with crews exhausted, and it would have been suicide to have forced them out then and there to again take the seas.
So the courtesies were fulfilled by the craft whereon I abode hauling out into the entrance basin, and anchoring there in the swells of the fairway; and forthwith she and her consorts took in wood and water, cured meat and fish ashore, and refitted in all needful ways, with all speed attainable.
For myself there came then, as the first time during twenty busy years, a breathing space from work. I had no further connection with the country of my labours; indeed, officially, I had left it already. Into the working of the ship it was contrary to rule that I should make any inspection or interest, since all sea matters were the exclusive property of the Mariners' Guild, secured to them by royal patent, and most jealously guarded.
So there remained to me in my day, hours to gaze (if I would) upon the quays, the harbours, the palaces, and the pyramids of the splendid city before me which I had seen grow stone by stone from its foundations; or to roam my eye over the pastures and the grain lands beyond the walls, and to look longingly at the dense forests behind, from which field by field we had so tediously ripped our territory.
Would Tatho continue the work so healthily begun? I trusted so, even in spite of his selfish words. And at all hours, during the radiance of our Lord the Sun, or under the stars of night, I was free to pursue that study of the higher mysteries, on which we of the Priests' Clan are trained to set our minds, without aid of book or instrument, of image or temple.
The refitting of the navy was gone about with speed. Never, it is said, had ships been reprovisioned and caulked, and remanned with greater speed for the over-ocean voyage. Indeed, it was barely over a month from the day that they brought up in the harbour, they put out beyond the walls, and began their voyage eastward over the hills and dale of the ocean.
Rowing-slaves from Europe for this long passage of sea are not taken now, owing to the difficulty in provisioning them, for modern humanity forbids the practice of letting them eat one another according to the home custom of their continent; sails alone are but an indifferent stand by; but modern science has shown how to extract force from the Sun, when He is free from cloud, and this (in a manner kept secret by mariners) is made to draw sea-water at the forepart of the vessel, and eject it with such force at the stern that she is appreciably driven forward, even with the wind adverse.
In another matter also has navigation vastly improved. It is not necessary now, as formerly, to trust wholly to a starry night (when beyond sight of land) to find direction. A little image has been made, and is stood balanced in the forepart of every vessel, with an arm outstretched, pointing constantly to the direction where the Southern Cross lies in the Heavens. So, by setting an angle, can a just course be correctly steered. Other instruments have they also for finding a true position on the ocean wastes, for the newer mariner, when he is at sea, puts little trust in the Gods, and confides mightily in his own thews and wits.
Still, it is amusing to see these tarry fellows, even in this modern day, take their last farewell of the harbour town. The ship is stowed, and all ready for sea, and they wash and put on all their bravery of attire. Ashore they go, their faces long with piety, and seek some obscure temple whose God has little flavour with shore folk, and here they make sacrifice with clamour and lavish outlay. And, finally, there follows a feast in honour of the God, and they arrive back on board, and put to sea for the most part drunken, and all heavy and evil-humoured with gluttony and their other excesses.
The voyage was very different to my previous sea-going. There was no creeping timorously along in touch with the coasts. We stood straight across the open gulf in the direction of home, came up with the band of the Carib Islands, and worked confidently through them, as though they had been signposts to mark the sea highway; and stopped only twice to replenish with wood, water, and fruit. These commodities, too, the savages brought us freely, so great was their subjection, and in neither place did we have even the semblance of a fight. It was a great certificate of the growing power of Atlantis and her finest over-sea colony.
Then boldly on we went across the vast ocean beyond, with never a sacrifice to implore the Gods that they should help our direction. One might feel censure towards these rugged mariners for their impiety, but one could not help an admiration for their lusty skill and confidence.
The dangers of the desolate sea are dealt out as the Gods will, and man can only take them as they come. Storms we encountered, and the mariners fought them with stubborn endurance; twice a blazing stone from Heaven hissed into the sea beside us, though without injuring any of our ships; and, as was unavoidable, the great beasts of the sea hunted us with their accustomed savagery. But only once did we suffer material loss from these last, and that was when three of the greater sea lizards attacked the "Bear," the ship whereon I travelled, at one and the same time.
The hour of their onset was during the blazing midday heat, and the Sun being at the full of His power, our machines were getting full force from Him. The vessel was travelling forward faster than a man on dry land could walk. But for the power escape she might as well have been standing still when the beasts sighted her. There were three of them, as I have said, and we saw them come up over the curve of the horizon, beating the sea into foam with their flappers, and waving their great necks like masts as they swam. Our navy was spread out in a long line of ships, and in olden days each of the beasts would have selected a separate prey, and proceeded for it; but, like man, these beasts have learned the necessities of warfare, and they hunt in pack now and do not separate their forces.
It was plain they were making for our ship, and Tob, the captain, would have had me go into the after-castle, and there be secure from their marauding. He was responsible to the Lord Tatho, he said, for my safe conduct; it was certain that the beasts would contrive to seize some of the ship's company before they were satiated; and if the hap came to the Lord Deucalion, he (the captain) would have to give himself voluntarily to the beasts then, to escape a very painful death at Tatho's hands later on.
However, my mind was set. A man can never have too much experience in fighting enemies, whether human or bestial, and the attack of these creatures was new to me, and I was fain to learn its method. So I gave the captain a letter to Tatho, saying how the matter lay (and for which, it may be mentioned, the rude fellow seemed little enough grateful), and stayed in my chair under the awning.
The beasts surged up to us with champing jaws, and all the shipmen stood armed on their defence. They came up alongside, two females (the smaller) on the flank of the ship, the giant male by himself on the other. Their great heads swooped about, as high as the yards that held the sails, and the reek from them gave one physical sickness.
The shipmen faced the monsters with a sturdy courage. Arrows were useless against the smooth, bull-like hides. Even the throwing fire could not so much as singe them; nothing but twenty axe blows delivered on an attacking head together could beat it back, and even these succeeded only through sheer weight of metal, and did not make so much as the scratch of a wound.
During all time beasts have disputed with man the mastery of the earth, and it is only in Atlantis and Egypt and Yucatan that man has dared to hold his own, and fight them with a mind made strong by many previous victories. In Europe and mid-Africa the greater beasts hold full dominion, and man admits his puny number and force, and lives in earth crannies and the higher tree-tops, as a fugitive confessed. And upon the great oceans, the beasts are lords, unchecked.
Still here, upon this desolate sea, although the giant lizards were new to me, it was a pleasure to pit my knowledge of war against their brute strength and courage. Ever since the first men did their business upon the great waters, they fulfilled their instincts in fighting the beasts with desperation. Hiding coward-like in a hold was useless, for if this enemy could not find men above decks to glut them, they would break a ship with their paddles, and so all would be slain. And so it was recognised that the fight should go forward as desperately as might be, and that it could only end when the beasts had got their prey and had gone away satisfied.
It was in a one-sided conflict after this fashion then, that I found myself, and felt the joy once more to have my thews in action. But after my axe had got in some dozen lusty blows, which, for all the harm they did, might have been delivered against some city wall, or, indeed, against the ark of the Mysteries itself, I sought about me till I found a lance, and with that made very different play.
The eyes of these lizards are small, and set deep in a bony socket, but I judged them to be vulnerable, and it was upon the eyes of the beast that I made my attack. The decks were slippery with the horrid slime of them. The crew surged about in their battling, and, moreover, constantly offered themselves as a rampart before me by reason of Tob, the captain's threats. But I gave a few shrewd progues with the lance to show that I did not choose my will to be overridden, and presently was given room for manoeuvre.
Deliberately I placed myself in the sight of one of the lizards, and offered my body to its attack. The challenge was accepted. It swooped like a dropping stone, and I swerved and drove in the lance at its oozy eye.
I thanked the Gods then that I had been trained with the lance till certain aim was a matter of instinct with me. The blade went true to its mark and stuck there, and the shaft broke in my hand. The beast drew off, blinded and bellowing, and beating the sea with its paddles. In a great cataract of foam I saw it bend its great long neck, and rub its head (with the spear still fixed) against its back, thereby enduring new agonies, but without dislodging the weapon. And then presently, finding this of no avail, it set off for the place from which it came with extraordinary quickness, and rapidly grew smaller against the horizon.
The male and the other female lizard had also left us, but not in similar plight. Tob, the captain, seeing my resolve to take hazards, deliberately thrust a shipman into the jaws of each of the others, so that they might be sated and get them gone. It was clear that Tob dreaded very much for his own skin if I came by harm, and I thought with a warming heart of the threats that Tatho must have used in his kind anxiety for my safety. It is pleasant when one's old friends do not omit to pay these little attentions.
3. A RIVAL NAVY
Now, when we came up with the coasts of Atlantis, though Tob, with the aid of his modern instruments, had made his landfall with most marvellous skill and nearness, there still remained some ten days' more journey in which we had to retrace our course, till we came to that arm of the sea up which lies the great city of Atlantis, the capital.
The sight of the land, and the breath of earth and herbage which came off from it with the breezes, were, I believe, under the Gods, the means of saving the lives of all of us. For, as is necessary with long cross-ocean voyages, many of our ships' companies had died, and still more were sick with scurvy through the unnatural tossing, or (as some have it) through the salt, unnatural food inseparable from shipboard. But these last, the sight and the smells of land heartened up in extraordinary fashion, and from being helpless logs, unable to move even under blows of the scourge, they became active again, able to help in the shipwork, and lusty (when the time came) to fight for their lives and their vessels.
From the moment that I was deposed in Yucatan, despite Tatho's assurances, there had been doubts in my mind as to what nature would be my reception in Atlantis. But I had faced this event of the future without concern: it was in the hands of the Gods. The Empress Phorenice might be supreme on earth; she might cause my head to be lopped from its proper shoulders the moment I set foot ashore; but my Lord the Sun was above Phorenice, and if my head fell, it would be because He saw best that it should be so. On which account, therefore, I had not troubled myself about the matter during the voyage, but had followed out my calm study of the higher mysteries with an unloaded mind.
But when our navy had retraced sufficiently the course that had been overrun, and came up with the two vast headlands which marked the entrance to the inland waters, there, a bare two days from the Atlantis capital, we met with another navy which was, beyond doubt, waiting to give us a reception. The ships were riding at anchor in a bay which lent them shelter, but they had scouts on the high land above, who cried the alarm of our approach, and when we rounded the headland, they were standing out to dispute our passage.
Of us there were now but five ships, the rest having been lost in storms, or fallen behind because all their crews were dead from the scurvy; and of the strangers there were three fine ships, and three galleys of many oars apiece. They were clean and bright and black; our ships were storm-ragged and weather-worn, and had bottoms that were foul with trailing ocean weed. Our ships hung out the colours and signs of Tatho and Deucalion openly and without shame, so that all who looked might know their origin and errand; but the other navy came on without banner or antient, as though they were some low creatures feeling shame for their birth.
Clear it seemed also that they would not let us pass without a fight, and in this there was nothing uncommon; for no law carries out over the seas, and a brother in one ship feels quite free to harry his brother in another vessel if he meets him out of earshot of the beach—more especially if that other brother be coming home laden from foray or trading tour. So Tob, with system and method, got our vessel into fighting trim, and the other four captains did the like with theirs, and drew close in to us to form a compact squadron. They had no wish to smell slavery, now that the voyage had come so near to its end.
Our Lord the Sun shone brilliantly, giving full speed to the machines, as though He was fully willing for the affair to proceed, and the two navies approached one another with quickness, the three galleys holding back to stay in line with their consorts. But when some bare hundred ship-lengths separated us, the other navy halted, and one of the galleys, drawing ahead, flew green branches from her masts, seeking for a parley.
The course was unusual, but we, in our sea-battered state, were no navy to invite a fight unnecessarily. So in hoarse sea-bawls word was passed, and we too halted, and Tob hoisted a withered stick (which had to do duty for greenery), to show that we were ready for talk, and would respect the person of an ambassador.
The galley drew on, swung round, and backed till its stern rasped on our shield rail, and one of her people clambered up and jumped down upon our decks. He was a dandily rigged-out fellow, young and lusty, and all healthy from the land and land victual, and he looked round him with a sneer at our sea-tatteredness, and with a fine self-confidence. Then, seeing Tob, he nodded as one meets an acquaintance. "Old pot-mate," he said, "your woman waits for you up by the quay-side in Atlantis yonder, with four youngsters at her heels. I saw her not half a month ago."
"You didn't come out here to tell me home news," said Tob; "that I'll be sworn. I've drunk enough pots with you, Dason, to know your pleasantries thoroughly."
"I wanted to point out to you that your home is still there, with your wife and children ready to welcome you."
"I am not a man that ever forgets it," said Tob grimly; "and because I've got them always at the back of my mind, I've sailed this ship over the top of more than one pirate, when, if I'd been a single man, I might have been e'en content to take the hap of slavery."
"Oh, I know you're a desperate enough fellow," said Dason, "and I'm free to confess that if it does come to blows we are like to lose a few men before we get you and your cripples here, and your crazy ships comfortably sunk. Our navy has its orders to carry out, and the cause of my embassage is this: we wish to see if you will act the sensible part and give us what we want, and so be permitted to go on your way home, with a skin that is unslit and dry?"
"You have come to the wrong bird here for a plucking," said Tob with a heavy laugh. "We took no treasure or merchandise on board in Yucatan. We stayed in harbour long enough to cure our sea victual and fill with food and water, and no longer. We sail back as we sailed out, barren ships. You will not believe me, of course; I would not have believed you had our places been changed; but you may go into the holds and search if you choose. You will find there nothing but a few poor sailormen half in pieces with the scurvy. No, you can steal nothing here but blows, Dason, and we will give you those with but little asking."
"I am glad to see that you state your cargo at such slender value," said the envoy, "for it is the cargo I must take back with me on the galley, if you are to earn your safe conduct to home."
Tob knit his brows. "You had better speak more plain," he said. "I am a common sailor, and do not understand fancy talk."
"It is clear to see," said Dason, "that you have been set to bring Deucalion back to Atlantis as a prop for Phorenice. Well, we others find Phorenice hard enough to fight against without further reinforcements, and so we want Deucalion in our own custody to deal with after our own fashion."
"And if I do the miser, and deny you this piece of my freight?"
The spruce envoy looked round at the splintered ship, and the battered navy beside her. "Why, then, Tob, we shall send you all to the fishes in very short time, and instead of Deucalion standing before the Gods alone, he will go down with a fine ragged company limping at his heels."
"I doubt it," said Tob, "but we shall see. As for letting you have my Lord Deucalion, that is out of the question. For see here, pot-mate Dason; in the first place, if I went to Atlantis without Deucalion, my other lord, Tatho, would come back one of these days, and in his hands I should die by the slowest of slow inches; in the second, I have seen my Lord Deucalion kill a great sea lizard, and he showed himself such a proper man that day that I would not give him up against his will, even to Tatho himself; and in the third place, you owe me for your share in our last wine-bout ashore, and I'll see you with the nether Gods before I give you aught till you've settled that score."
"Well, Tob, I hope you'll drown easy. As for that wife of yours, I've always had a fancy for her myself, and I shall know how to find a use for the woman."
"I'll draw your neck for that, you son of a European," said Tob; "and if you do not clear off this deck I'll draw it here. Go," he cried, "you father of monkey children! Get away, and let me fight you fairly, or by my honour I'll stamp the inwards out of you, and make your silly crew wear them as necklaces."
Upon which Dason went to his galley.
Promptly Tob set going the machine on our own "Bear," and bawled his orders right and left to the other ships. The crew might be weak with scurvy, but they were quick to obey. Instantly the five vessels were all started, and because our Lord the Sun was shining brightly, got soon to the full of their pace. The whole of our small navy converged, singling out one ship of their opponents, and she, not being ready for so swift an attack, got flurried, and endeavoured to turn and run for room, instead of trying to meet us bows on. As a consequence, the whole of our five ships hit her together on the broadside, tearing her planking with their underwater beaks, and sinking her before we had backed clear from the engage.
But if we thus brought the enemy's number down to five, and so equal to our own, the advantage did not remain with us for long. The three nimble galleys formed into line: their boatswains' whips cracked as the slaves bent to their oars, and presently one of our own ships was gored and sunk, the men on her being killed in the water without hope of rescue.
And then commenced a tight-locked melee that would have warmed the heart of the greatest warrior alive. The ships and the galleys were forced together and lay savagely grinding one another upon the swells, as though they had been sentient animals. The men on board them shot their arrows, slashed with axes, thrust and hacked with swords, and hurled the throwing fire. But in every way the fight converged upon the "Bear." It was on her that the enemy spent the fiercest of their spite; it was to the "Bear," that the other crews of Tatho's navy rallied as their own vessels caught fire, or were sunk or taken.
Battle is an old acquaintance with us of the Priestly Clan, and for those of us who have had to carve out territories for the new colonies, it comes with enough frequency to cloy even the most chivalrous appetite. So I can speak here as a man of experience. Up till that time, for half a life-span, I had heard men shout "Deucalion" as a battlecry, and in my day had seen some lusty encounters. But this sea-fight surprised even me in its savage fierceness. The bleak, unstable element which surrounded us; the swaying decks on which we fought; the throwing fire, which burnt flesh and wood alike with its horrid flame; the great gluttonous man-eating birds that hovered in the sky overhead; the man-eating fish that swarmed up from the seas around, gnawing and quarrelling over those that fell into the waters, all went to make up a circumstance fit to daunt the bravest men-at-arms ever gathered for an army.
But these tarry shipmen faced it all with an indomitable courage, and never a cry of quailing. Life on the seas is so hard, and (from the beasts that haunt the great waters) so full of savage dangers, that Death has lost half his terrors to them through sheer familiarity. They were fellows who from pure lust for a fray would fight to a finish amongst themselves in the taverns ashore; and so here, in this desperate sea-battle, the passion for killing burned in them, as a fire stone from Heaven rages in a forest; and they took even their death-wounds laughing.
On our side the battle-cry was "Tob!" and the name of this obscure ship-captain seemed to carry a confidence with it for our own crews that many a well-known commander might have envied. The enemy had a dozen rallying cries, and these confused them. But as their other ship-commanders one by one were killed, and Dason remained, active with mischief, "Dason!" became the shout which was thrown back at us in response to our "Tob!"
However, I will not load my page with farther long account of this obscure sea-fight, whose only glory was its ferocity. One by one all the ships of either side were sunk or lay with all their people killed, till finally only Dason's galley and our own "Bear" were left. For the moment we were being mastered. We had a score of men remaining out of all those that manned the navy when it sailed from Yucatan, and the enemy had boarded us and made the decks of the "Bear" the field of battle. But they had been over busy with the throwing fire, and presently, as we raged at one another, the smoke and the flame from the sturdy vessel herself let us very plainly know that she was past salvation.
But Tob was nothing daunted. "They may stay here and fry if they choose," he shouted with his great boisterous laugh, "but for ourselves the galley is good enough now. Keep a guard on Deucalion, and come with me, shipmates!"
"Tob!" our fellows shouted in their ecstasy of fighting madness, and I too could not forbear sending out a "Tob!" for my battle-cry. It was a change for me not to be leader, but it was a luxury for once to fight in the wake of this Tob, despite his uncouthness of mien and plan. There was no stopping this new rush, though progress still was slow. Tob with his bloody axe cut the road in front, and we others, with the lust of battle filling us to the chin, raged like furies in his wake. Gods! but it was a fight.
Ten of us won to the galley, with the flames and the smoke from the poor "Bear" spurting at our heels. We turned and stabbed madly at all who tried to follow, and hacked through the grapples that held the vessels to their embrace. The sea-swells spurned the "Bear" away.
The slaves chained to the rowing-galley's benches had interest neither one way nor the other, and looked on the contest with dull concern, save when some stray missile found a billet amongst them. But a handful of the fighting men had scrambled desperately on board the galley after us, preferring any fate to a fiery death on the "Bear," and these had to be dealt with promptly. Three, with their fighting fury still red-hot in them, had most wastefully to be killed out of mischief's way; five, who had pitched their weapons into the sea, were chained to oar looms, in place of slaves who were dead; and there remained only Dason to have a fate apportioned.
The fight had cooled out of him, and he had thrown his arms to the sea, and stood sullenly ready for what might befall; and to him Tob went up with an exulting face.
"Ho, pot-mate Dason," cried he, "you made a lot of talk an hour ago about that woman of mine, who lives with her brats on the quay-side in Atlantis yonder. Now, I'll give you a pleasant choice; either I'll take you along home, and tell her what you said before the whole ship's company (that are for the most part dead now, poor souls!), and I'll leave her to perform on your carcase as she sees fit by way of payment; or, as the other choice, I'll deal with you here now myself."
"I thank you for the chance," said Dason, and knelt and offered his neck to the axe. So Tob cut off his head, sticking it on the galley's beak as an advertisement of what had been done. The body he threw over the side, and one of the great man-eating birds that hovered near, picked it up and flew away with it to its nest amongst the crags. And so we were free to get a meal of the fruits and the fresh meats which the galley offered, whilst the oar-slaves sent the galley rushing onwards towards the capital.
There was a wine-skin in the after-castle, and I filled a horn and poured some out at Tob's feet in salutation. "My man," I said, "you have shown me a fight."
"Thanks," said he, "and I know you are a judge. 'Twas pretty whilst it lasted; and, seeing that my lads were, for the most, scurvy-rotten, I will say they fought with credit. I have lost my Lord Tatho's navy, but I think Phorenice will see me righted there. If those that are against her took so much trouble to kill my Lord Deucalion before he could come to her aid, I can fancy she will not be niggard in her joy when I put Deucalion safe, if somewhat dented and blood-bespattered, on the quay."
"The Gods know," I said, for it is never my custom to discuss policies with my inferiors, even though etiquette be for the moment loosened, as ours was then by the thrill of battle. "The Gods will decide what is best for you, Tob, even as they have decided that it is best that I should go on to Atlantis."
The sailor held a horn filled from the wine-skin in his hand, and I think was minded to pour a libation at my feet, even as I had done at his. But he changed his mind, and emptied it down his throat instead. "It is thirsty work, this fighting," he said, "and that drink comes very useful."
I put my hand on his blood-smeared arm. "Tob," I said, "whether I step into power again, or whether I go to the block to-morrow, is another matter which the Gods alone know, but hear me tell you now, that if a chance is given me of showing my gratitude, I shall not forget the way you have served me in this voyage, and the way you have fought this day."
Tob filled another brimming horn from the wine-skin and splashed it at my feet. "That's good enough surety for me," he said, "that my woman and brats never want from this day onward. The Lord Deucalion for the block, indeed!"
4. THE WELCOME OF PHORENICE
Now I can say it with all truth that, till the rival navy met us in the mouth of the gulf, I had thought little enough of my importance as a recruit for the Empress. But the laying in wait for us of those ships, and the wild ferocity with which they fought so that I might fall into their hands, were omens which the blindest could not fail to read. It was clear that I was expected to play a lusty part in the fortunes of the nation.
But if our coming had been watched for by enemies it seemed that Phorenice also had her scouts; and these saw us from the mountains, and carried news to the capital. The arm of the sea at the head of which the vast city of Atlantis stands, varies greatly in width. In places where the mountains have over-boiled, and sent their liquid contents down to form hard stone below, the channel has barely a river's wideness, and then beyond, for the next half-day's sail it will widen out into a lake, with the sides barely visible. Moreover, its course is winding, and so a runner who knows his way across the flats, and the swamps, and between the smoking hills which lie along the shore, and did not get overcome by fire-streams, or water, or wandering beasts, could carry news overland from seacoast to capital far speedier than even the most shrewdly whipped of galleys could ferry it along the water.
Of course there were heavy risks that a lone traveller would not make a safe passage by this land route, if he were bidden to sacrifice all precautions to speed. But Phorenice was no niggard with her couriers. She sent a corps of twenty to the headland that overlooks the sea-entrance to the straits; they started with the news, each on his own route; and it says much for their speed and cleverness, that no fewer than seven of these agile fellows came through scathless with their tidings, and of the others it was said that quite three were known to have survived.
Still, about this we had no means of knowing at the time, and pushed on in fancy that our coming was quite unheralded. The slaves on the galley's row-banks were for the most part savages from Europe, and the smell of them was so offensive that the voyage lost all its pleasures; and as, moreover, the wind carried with it an infinite abundance of small grit from some erupting fire mountain, we were anxious to linger as little as possible. Besides, if I may confess to such a thing without being unduly degraded, although by my priestly training I had been taught stoicism, and knew that all the future was in the hands of the Gods, I was frailly human still to have a very vast curiosity as to what would be the form of my own reception at Atlantis. I could imagine myself taken a formal prisoner on landing, and set on a formal trial to answer for my cure of the colony of Yucatan; I could imagine myself stepping ashore unknown and unnoticed, and after a due lapse, being sent for by the Empress to take up new duties; but the manner of my real welcome was a thing I did not even guess at.
We came in sight of the peak of the sacred mountain, with its glare of eternal fires which stand behind the city, one morning with the day's break, and the whips of the boatswains cracked more vehemently, so that those offensive slaves should give the galley a final spurt. The wind was adverse, and no sail could be spread, but under oars alone we made a pretty pace, and the sides of the sacred mountain grew longer, and presently the peaks of the pyramids in the city, the towers of the higher buildings, began to show themselves as though they floated upon the gleaming water. It was twenty years since I had seen Atlantis last, and my heart glowed with the thought of treading again upon her paving-stones.
The splendid city grew out of the sea as we approached, and to every throb of the oars, the shores leaped nearer. I saw the temple where I had been admitted first to manhood; I saw the pyramid in whose heart I had been initiated to the small mysteries; and then (as the lesser objects became discernible) I made out the house where a father and a mother had reared me, and my eyes became dim as the memories rose.
We drew up outside the white walls of the harbour, as the law was, and the slaves panted and sobbed in quietude over the oar-looms. For vessels thus stationed there is, generally, a sufficiency of waiting, for a port-captain is apt to be so uncertain of his own dignity, that he must e'en keep folks waiting to prove it to them. But here for us it might have been that the port-captain's boat was waiting. The signal was sounded from the two castles at the harbour's entrance, the chain which hung between them was dropped, and a ten-oared boat shot out from behind the walls as fast as oars could drive her. She raced up alongside and the questions were put:
"That should be Dason's galley?"
"It was," said Tob.
"Oh, I saw Dason's head on your beak," said the port-captain. "You were Tatho's captain?"
"And am still. Tatho's fleet was sent by Dason and his friends to the sea-floor, and so we took this stinking galley to finish the voyage in, seeing that it was the only craft left afloat."
The port-captain was roving his eye over the group of us who stood on the after-deck. "I fear me, captain, that you'll have but a dangerous reception. I do not see my Lord Deucalion. Or does he come with some other navy? Gods, captain, if you have let him get killed whilst under your charge, the Empress will have the skin torn slowly off you living."
"What with Phorenice and Tatho both so curious for his welfare," said Tob, "my Lord Deucalion seems but a dangerous passenger. But I shall save my hide this voyage." He jerked at me with his thumb. "He's there to put in a word for me himself."
The port-captain stared for a moment, as if unbelieving, and then, as though satisfied, made obeisance like a fellow well used to ceremonial. "I trust my lord, in his infinite strength, will pardon my sin in not knowing him by his nobleness before. But truth to tell, I had looked to see my lord more suitably apparelled."
"Pish," I said; "if I choose to dress simply, I cannot object to being mistaken for a simple man. It is not my pleasure to advertise my quality by the gauds on my garb. If you think amends are due to me, I pray of your charity that this inquisition may end."
The fellow was all bows and obsequiousness. "I am the humblest of my lord's servants," he said. "It will be my exceeding honour to pilot my lord's galley into the berth appointed in harbour."
The boat shot ahead, and our galley-slaves swung into stroke again. Tob watched me with a dry smile as he stood directing the men at the helms.