The Lost Continent was originally published under the title Beyond Thirty
THE LOST CONTINENT
Edgar Rice Burroughs
JTABLE 3 9 1
Since earliest childhood I have been strangely fascinated by the mystery surrounding the history of the last days of twentieth century Europe. My interest is keenest, perhaps, not so much in relation to known facts as to speculation upon the unknowable of the two centuries that have rolled by since human intercourse between the Western and Eastern Hemispheres ceased—the mystery of Europe's state following the termination of the Great War—provided, of course, that the war had been terminated.
From out of the meagerness of our censored histories we learned that for fifteen years after the cessation of diplomatic relations between the United States of North America and the belligerent nations of the Old World, news of more or less doubtful authenticity filtered, from time to time, into the Western Hemisphere from the Eastern.
Then came the fruition of that historic propaganda which is best described by its own slogan: "The East for the East—the West for the West," and all further intercourse was stopped by statute.
Even prior to this, transoceanic commerce had practically ceased, owing to the perils and hazards of the mine-strewn waters of both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Just when submarine activities ended we do not know but the last vessel of this type sighted by a Pan-American merchantman was the huge Q 138, which discharged twenty-nine torpedoes at a Brazilian tank steamer off the Bermudas in the fall of 1972. A heavy sea and the excellent seamanship of the master of the Brazilian permitted the Pan-American to escape and report this last of a long series of outrages upon our commerce. God alone knows how many hundreds of our ancient ships fell prey to the roving steel sharks of blood-frenzied Europe. Countless were the vessels and men that passed over our eastern and western horizons never to return; but whether they met their fates before the belching tubes of submarines or among the aimlessly drifting mine fields, no man lived to tell.
And then came the great Pan-American Federation which linked the Western Hemisphere from pole to pole under a single flag, which joined the navies of the New World into the mightiest fighting force that ever sailed the seven seas—the greatest argument for peace the world had ever known.
Since that day peace had reigned from the western shores of the Azores to the western shores of the Hawaiian Islands, nor has any man of either hemisphere dared cross 30dW. or 175dW. From 30d to 175d is ours—from 30d to 175d is peace, prosperity and happiness.
Beyond was the great unknown. Even the geographies of my boyhood showed nothing beyond. We were taught of nothing beyond. Speculation was discouraged. For two hundred years the Eastern Hemisphere had been wiped from the maps and histories of Pan-America. Its mention in fiction, even, was forbidden.
Our ships of peace patrol thirty and one hundred seventy-five. What ships from beyond they have warned only the secret archives of government show; but, a naval officer myself, I have gathered from the traditions of the service that it has been fully two hundred years since smoke or sail has been sighted east of 30d or west of 175d. The fate of the relinquished provinces which lay beyond the dead lines we could only speculate upon. That they were taken by the military power, which rose so suddenly in China after the fall of the republic, and which wrested Manchuria and Korea from Russia and Japan, and also absorbed the Philippines, is quite within the range of possibility.
It was the commander of a Chinese man-of-war who received a copy of the edict of 1972 from the hand of my illustrious ancestor, Admiral Turck, on one hundred seventy-five, two hundred and six years ago, and from the yellowed pages of the admiral's diary I learned that the fate of the Philippines was even then presaged by these Chinese naval officers.
Yes, for over two hundred years no man crossed 30d to 175d and lived to tell his story—not until chance drew me across and back again, and public opinion, revolting at last against the drastic regulations of our long-dead forbears, demanded that my story be given to the world, and that the narrow interdict which commanded peace, prosperity, and happiness to halt at 30d and 175d be removed forever.
I am glad that it was given to me to be an instrument in the hands of Providence for the uplifting of benighted Europe, and the amelioration of the suffering, degradation, and abysmal ignorance in which I found her.
I shall not live to see the complete regeneration of the savage hordes of the Eastern Hemisphere—that is a work which will require many generations, perhaps ages, so complete has been their reversion to savagery; but I know that the work has been started, and I am proud of the share in it which my generous countrymen have placed in my hands.
The government already possesses a complete official report of my adventures beyond thirty. In the narrative I purpose telling my story in a less formal, and I hope, a more entertaining, style; though, being only a naval officer and without claim to the slightest literary ability, I shall most certainly fall far short of the possibilities which are inherent in my subject. That I have passed through the most wondrous adventures that have befallen a civilized man during the past two centuries encourages me in the belief that, however ill the telling, the facts themselves will command your interest to the final page.
Beyond thirty! Romance, adventure, strange peoples, fearsome beasts—all the excitement and scurry of the lives of the twentieth century ancients that have been denied us in these dull days of peace and prosaic prosperity—all, all lay beyond thirty, the invisible barrier between the stupid, commercial present and the carefree, barbarous past.
What boy has not sighed for the good old days of wars, revolutions, and riots; how I used to pore over the chronicles of those old days, those dear old days, when workmen went armed to their labors; when they fell upon one another with gun and bomb and dagger, and the streets ran red with blood! Ah, but those were the times when life was worth the living; when a man who went out by night knew not at which dark corner a "footpad" might leap upon and slay him; when wild beasts roamed the forest and the jungles, and there were savage men, and countries yet unexplored.
Now, in all the Western Hemisphere dwells no man who may not find a school house within walking distance of his home, or at least within flying distance.
The wildest beast that roams our waste places lairs in the frozen north or the frozen south within a government reserve, where the curious may view him and feed him bread crusts from the hand with perfect impunity.
But beyond thirty! And I have gone there, and come back; and now you may go there, for no longer is it high treason, punishable by disgrace or death, to cross 30d or 175d.
My name is Jefferson Turck. I am a lieutenant in the navy—in the great Pan-American navy, the only navy which now exists in all the world.
I was born in Arizona, in the United States of North America, in the year of our Lord 2116. Therefore, I am twenty-one years old.
In early boyhood I tired of the teeming cities and overcrowded rural districts of Arizona. Every generation of Turcks for over two centuries has been represented in the navy. The navy called to me, as did the free, wide, unpeopled spaces of the mighty oceans. And so I joined the navy, coming up from the ranks, as we all must, learning our craft as we advance. My promotion was rapid, for my family seems to inherit naval lore. We are born officers, and I reserve to myself no special credit for an early advancement in the service.
At twenty I found myself a lieutenant in command of the aero-submarine Coldwater, of the SS-96 class. The Coldwater was one of the first of the air and underwater craft which have been so greatly improved since its launching, and was possessed of innumerable weaknesses which, fortunately, have been eliminated in more recent vessels of similar type.
Even when I took command, she was fit only for the junk pile; but the world-old parsimony of government retained her in active service, and sent two hundred men to sea in her, with myself, a mere boy, in command of her, to patrol thirty from Iceland to the Azores.
Much of my service had been spent aboard the great merchantmen-of-war. These are the utility naval vessels that have transformed the navies of old, which burdened the peoples with taxes for their support, into the present day fleets of self-supporting ships that find ample time for target practice and gun drill while they bear freight and the mails from the continents to the far-scattered island of Pan-America.
This change in service was most welcome to me, especially as it brought with it coveted responsibilities of sole command, and I was prone to overlook the deficiencies of the Coldwater in the natural pride I felt in my first ship.
The Coldwater was fully equipped for two months' patrolling—the ordinary length of assignment to this service—and a month had already passed, its monotony entirely unrelieved by sight of another craft, when the first of our misfortunes befell.
We had been riding out a storm at an altitude of about three thousand feet. All night we had hovered above the tossing billows of the moonlight clouds. The detonation of the thunder and the glare of lightning through an occasional rift in the vaporous wall proclaimed the continued fury of the tempest upon the surface of the sea; but we, far above it all, rode in comparative ease upon the upper gale. With the coming of dawn the clouds beneath us became a glorious sea of gold and silver, soft and beautiful; but they could not deceive us as to the blackness and the terrors of the storm-lashed ocean which they hid.
I was at breakfast when my chief engineer entered and saluted. His face was grave, and I thought he was even a trifle paler than usual.
"Well?" I asked.
He drew the back of his forefinger nervously across his brow in a gesture that was habitual with him in moments of mental stress.
"The gravitation-screen generators, sir," he said. "Number one went to the bad about an hour and a half ago. We have been working upon it steadily since; but I have to report, sir, that it is beyond repair."
"Number two will keep us supplied," I answered. "In the meantime we will send a wireless for relief."
"But that is the trouble, sir," he went on. "Number two has stopped. I knew it would come, sir. I made a report on these generators three years ago. I advised then that they both be scrapped. Their principle is entirely wrong. They're done for." And, with a grim smile, "I shall at least have the satisfaction of knowing my report was accurate."
"Have we sufficient reserve screen to permit us to make land, or, at least, meet our relief halfway?" I asked.
"No, sir," he replied gravely; "we are sinking now."
"Have you anything further to report?" I asked.
"No, sir," he said.
"Very good," I replied; and, as I dismissed him, I rang for my wireless operator. When he appeared, I gave him a message to the secretary of the navy, to whom all vessels in service on thirty and one hundred seventy-five report direct. I explained our predicament, and stated that with what screening force remained I should continue in the air, making as rapid headway toward St. Johns as possible, and that when we were forced to take to the water I should continue in the same direction.
The accident occurred directly over 30d and about 52d N. The surface wind was blowing a tempest from the west. To attempt to ride out such a storm upon the surface seemed suicidal, for the Coldwater was not designed for surface navigation except under fair weather conditions. Submerged, or in the air, she was tractable enough in any sort of weather when under control; but without her screen generators she was almost helpless, since she could not fly, and, if submerged, could not rise to the surface.
All these defects have been remedied in later models; but the knowledge did not help us any that day aboard the slowly settling Coldwater, with an angry sea roaring beneath, a tempest raging out of the west, and 30d only a few knots astern.
To cross thirty or one hundred seventy-five has been, as you know, the direst calamity that could befall a naval commander. Court-martial and degradation follow swiftly, unless as is often the case, the unfortunate man takes his own life before this unjust and heartless regulation can hold him up to public scorn.
There has been in the past no excuse, no circumstance, that could palliate the offense.
"He was in command, and he took his ship across thirty!" That was sufficient. It might not have been in any way his fault, as, in the case of the Coldwater, it could not possibly have been justly charged to my account that the gravitation-screen generators were worthless; but well I knew that should chance have it that we were blown across thirty today—as we might easily be before the terrific west wind that we could hear howling below us, the responsibility would fall upon my shoulders.
In a way, the regulation was a good one, for it certainly accomplished that for which it was intended. We all fought shy of 30d on the east and 175d on the west, and, though we had to skirt them pretty close, nothing but an act of God ever drew one of us across. You all are familiar with the naval tradition that a good officer could sense proximity to either line, and for my part, I am firmly convinced of the truth of this as I am that the compass finds the north without recourse to tedious processes of reasoning.
Old Admiral Sanchez was wont to maintain that he could smell thirty, and the men of the first ship in which I sailed claimed that Coburn, the navigating officer, knew by name every wave along thirty from 60dN. to 60dS. However, I'd hate to vouch for this.
Well, to get back to my narrative; we kept on dropping slowly toward the surface the while we bucked the west wind, clawing away from thirty as fast as we could. I was on the bridge, and as we dropped from the brilliant sunlight into the dense vapor of clouds and on down through them to the wild, dark storm strata beneath, it seemed that my spirits dropped with the falling ship, and the buoyancy of hope ran low in sympathy.
The waves were running to tremendous heights, and the Coldwater was not designed to meet such waves head on. Her elements were the blue ether, far above the raging storm, or the greater depths of ocean, which no storm could ruffle.
As I stood speculating upon our chances once we settled into the frightful Maelstrom beneath us and at the same time mentally computing the hours which must elapse before aid could reach us, the wireless operator clambered up the ladder to the bridge, and, disheveled and breathless, stood before me at salute. It needed but a glance at him to assure me that something was amiss.
"What now?" I asked.
"The wireless, sir!" he cried. "My God, sir, I cannot send."
"But the emergency outfit?" I asked.
"I have tried everything, sir. I have exhausted every resource. We cannot send," and he drew himself up and saluted again.
I dismissed him with a few kind words, for I knew that it was through no fault of his that the mechanism was antiquated and worthless, in common with the balance of the Coldwater's equipment. There was no finer operator in Pan-America than he.
The failure of the wireless did not appear as momentous to me as to him, which is not unnatural, since it is but human to feel that when our own little cog slips, the entire universe must necessarily be put out of gear. I knew that if this storm were destined to blow us across thirty, or send us to the bottom of the ocean, no help could reach us in time to prevent it. I had ordered the message sent solely because regulations required it, and not with any particular hope that we could benefit by it in our present extremity.
I had little time to dwell upon the coincidence of the simultaneous failure of the wireless and the buoyancy generators, since very shortly after the Coldwater had dropped so low over the waters that all my attention was necessarily centered upon the delicate business of settling upon the waves without breaking my ship's back. With our buoyancy generators in commission it would have been a simple thing to enter the water, since then it would have been but a trifling matter of a forty-five degree dive into the base of a huge wave. We should have cut into the water like a hot knife through butter, and have been totally submerged with scarce a jar—I have done it a thousand times—but I did not dare submerge the Coldwater for fear that it would remain submerged to the end of time—a condition far from conducive to the longevity of commander or crew.
Most of my officers were older men than I. John Alvarez, my first officer, is twenty years my senior. He stood at my side on the bridge as the ship glided closer and closer to those stupendous waves. He watched my every move, but he was by far too fine an officer and gentleman to embarrass me by either comment or suggestion.
When I saw that we soon would touch, I ordered the ship brought around broadside to the wind, and there we hovered a moment until a huge wave reached up and seized us upon its crest, and then I gave the order that suddenly reversed the screening force, and let us into the ocean. Down into the trough we went, wallowing like the carcass of a dead whale, and then began the fight, with rudder and propellers, to force the Coldwater back into the teeth of the gale and drive her on and on, farther and farther from relentless thirty.
I think that we should have succeeded, even though the ship was wracked from stem to stern by the terrific buffetings she received, and though she were half submerged the greater part of the time, had no further accident befallen us.
We were making headway, though slowly, and it began to look as though we were going to pull through. Alvarez never left my side, though I all but ordered him below for much-needed rest. My second officer, Porfirio Johnson, was also often on the bridge. He was a good officer, but a man for whom I had conceived a rather unreasoning aversion almost at the first moment of meeting him, an aversion which was not lessened by the knowledge which I subsequently gained that he looked upon my rapid promotion with jealousy. He was ten years my senior both in years and service, and I rather think he could never forget the fact that he had been an officer when I was a green apprentice.
As it became more and more apparent that the Coldwater, under my seamanship, was weathering the tempest and giving promise of pulling through safely, I could have sworn that I perceived a shade of annoyance and disappointment growing upon his dark countenance. He left the bridge finally and went below. I do not know that he is directly responsible for what followed so shortly after; but I have always had my suspicions, and Alvarez is even more prone to place the blame upon him than I.
It was about six bells of the forenoon watch that Johnson returned to the bridge after an absence of some thirty minutes. He seemed nervous and ill at ease—a fact which made little impression on me at the time, but which both Alvarez and I recalled subsequently.
Not three minutes after his reappearance at my side the Coldwater suddenly commenced to lose headway. I seized the telephone at my elbow, pressing upon the button which would call the chief engineer to the instrument in the bowels of the ship, only to find him already at the receiver attempting to reach me.
"Numbers one, two, and five engines have broken down, sir," he called. "Shall we force the remaining three?"
"We can do nothing else," I bellowed into the transmitter.
"They won't stand the gaff, sir," he returned.
"Can you suggest a better plan?" I asked.
"No, sir," he replied.
"Then give them the gaff, lieutenant," I shouted back, and hung up the receiver.
For twenty minutes the Coldwater bucked the great seas with her three engines. I doubt if she advanced a foot; but it was enough to keep her nose in the wind, and, at least, we were not drifting toward thirty.
Johnson and Alvarez were at my side when, without warning, the bow swung swiftly around and the ship fell into the trough of the sea.
"The other three have gone," I said, and I happened to be looking at Johnson as I spoke. Was it the shadow of a satisfied smile that crossed his thin lips? I do not know; but at least he did not weep.
"You always have been curious, sir, about the great unknown beyond thirty," he said. "You are in a good way to have your curiosity satisfied." And then I could not mistake the slight sneer that curved his upper lip. There must have been a trace of disrespect in his tone or manner which escaped me, for Alvarez turned upon him like a flash.
"When Lieutenant Turck crosses thirty," he said, "we shall all cross with him, and God help the officer or the man who reproaches him!"
"I shall not be a party to high treason," snapped Johnson. "The regulations are explicit, and if the Coldwater crosses thirty it devolves upon you to place Lieutenant Turck under arrest and immediately exert every endeavor to bring the ship back into Pan-American waters."
"I shall not know," replied Alvarez, "that the Coldwater passes thirty; nor shall any other man aboard know it," and, with his words, he drew a revolver from his pocket, and before either I or Johnson could prevent it had put a bullet into every instrument upon the bridge, ruining them beyond repair.
And then he saluted me, and strode from the bridge, a martyr to loyalty and friendship, for, though no man might know that Lieutenant Jefferson Turck had taken his ship across thirty, every man aboard would know that the first officer had committed a crime that was punishable by both degradation and death. Johnson turned and eyed me narrowly.
"Shall I place him under arrest?" he asked.
"You shall not," I replied. "Nor shall anyone else."
"You become a party to his crime!" he cried angrily.
"You may go below, Mr. Johnson," I said, "and attend to the work of unpacking the extra instruments and having them properly set upon the bridge."
He saluted, and left me, and for some time I stood, gazing out upon the angry waters, my mind filled with unhappy reflections upon the unjust fate that had overtaken me, and the sorrow and disgrace that I had unwittingly brought down upon my house.
I rejoiced that I should leave neither wife nor child to bear the burden of my shame throughout their lives.
As I thought upon my misfortune, I considered more clearly than ever before the unrighteousness of the regulation which was to prove my doom, and in the natural revolt against its injustice my anger rose, and there mounted within me a feeling which I imagine must have paralleled that spirit that once was prevalent among the ancients called anarchy.
For the first time in my life I found my sentiments arraying themselves against custom, tradition, and even government. The wave of rebellion swept over me in an instant, beginning with an heretical doubt as to the sanctity of the established order of things—that fetish which has ruled Pan-Americans for two centuries, and which is based upon a blind faith in the infallibility of the prescience of the long-dead framers of the articles of Pan-American federation—and ending in an adamantine determination to defend my honor and my life to the last ditch against the blind and senseless regulation which assumed the synonymity of misfortune and treason.
I would replace the destroyed instruments upon the bridge; every officer and man should know when we crossed thirty. But then I should assert the spirit which dominated me, I should resist arrest, and insist upon bringing my ship back across the dead line, remaining at my post until we had reached New York. Then I should make a full report, and with it a demand upon public opinion that the dead lines be wiped forever from the seas.
I knew that I was right. I knew that no more loyal officer wore the uniform of the navy. I knew that I was a good officer and sailor, and I didn't propose submitting to degradation and discharge because a lot of old, preglacial fossils had declared over two hundred years before that no man should cross thirty.
Even while these thoughts were passing through my mind I was busy with the details of my duties. I had seen to it that a sea anchor was rigged, and even now the men had completed their task, and the Coldwater was swinging around rapidly, her nose pointing once more into the wind, and the frightful rolling consequent upon her wallowing in the trough was happily diminishing.
It was then that Johnson came hurrying to the bridge. One of his eyes was swollen and already darkening, and his lip was cut and bleeding. Without even the formality of a salute, he burst upon me, white with fury.
"Lieutenant Alvarez attacked me!" he cried. "I demand that he be placed under arrest. I found him in the act of destroying the reserve instruments, and when I would have interfered to protect them he fell upon me and beat me. I demand that you arrest him!"
"You forget yourself, Mr. Johnson," I said. "You are not in command of the ship. I deplore the action of Lieutenant Alvarez, but I cannot expunge from my mind the loyalty and self-sacrificing friendship which has prompted him to his acts. Were I you, sir, I should profit by the example he has set. Further, Mr. Johnson, I intend retaining command of the ship, even though she crosses thirty, and I shall demand implicit obedience from every officer and man aboard until I am properly relieved from duty by a superior officer in the port of New York."
"You mean to say that you will cross thirty without submitting to arrest?" he almost shouted.
"I do, sir," I replied. "And now you may go below, and, when again you find it necessary to address me, you will please be so good as to bear in mind the fact that I am your commanding officer, and as such entitled to a salute."
He flushed, hesitated a moment, and then, saluting, turned upon his heel and left the bridge. Shortly after, Alvarez appeared. He was pale, and seemed to have aged ten years in the few brief minutes since I last had seen him. Saluting, he told me very simply what he had done, and asked that I place him under arrest.
I put my hand on his shoulder, and I guess that my voice trembled a trifle as, while reproving him for his act, I made it plain to him that my gratitude was no less potent a force than his loyalty to me. Then it was that I outlined to him my purpose to defy the regulation that had raised the dead lines, and to take my ship back to New York myself.
I did not ask him to share the responsibility with me. I merely stated that I should refuse to submit to arrest, and that I should demand of him and every other officer and man implicit obedience to my every command until we docked at home.
His face brightened at my words, and he assured me that I would find him as ready to acknowledge my command upon the wrong side of thirty as upon the right, an assurance which I hastened to tell him I did not need.
The storm continued to rage for three days, and as far as the wind scarce varied a point during all that time, I knew that we must be far beyond thirty, drifting rapidly east by south. All this time it had been impossible to work upon the damaged engines or the gravity-screen generators; but we had a full set of instruments upon the bridge, for Alvarez, after discovering my intentions, had fetched the reserve instruments from his own cabin, where he had hidden them. Those which Johnson had seen him destroy had been a third set which only Alvarez had known was aboard the Coldwater.
We waited impatiently for the sun, that we might determine our exact location, and upon the fourth day our vigil was rewarded a few minutes before noon.
Every officer and man aboard was tense with nervous excitement as we awaited the result of the reading. The crew had known almost as soon as I that we were doomed to cross thirty, and I am inclined to believe that every man jack of them was tickled to death, for the spirits of adventure and romance still live in the hearts of men of the twenty-second century, even though there be little for them to feed upon between thirty and one hundred seventy-five.
The men carried none of the burdens of responsibility. They might cross thirty with impunity, and doubtless they would return to be heroes at home; but how different the home-coming of their commanding officer!
The wind had dropped to a steady blow, still from west by north, and the sea had gone down correspondingly. The crew, with the exception of those whose duties kept them below, were ranged on deck below the bridge. When our position was definitely fixed I personally announced it to the eager, waiting men.
"Men," I said, stepping forward to the handrail and looking down into their upturned, bronzed faces, "you are anxiously awaiting information as to the ship's position. It has been determined at latitude fifty degrees seven minutes north, longitude twenty degrees sixteen minutes west."
I paused and a buzz of animated comment ran through the massed men beneath me. "Beyond thirty. But there will be no change in commanding officers, in routine or in discipline, until after we have docked again in New York."
As I ceased speaking and stepped back from the rail there was a roar of applause from the deck such as I never before had heard aboard a ship of peace. It recalled to my mind tales that I had read of the good old days when naval vessels were built to fight, when ships of peace had been man-of-war, and guns had flashed in other than futile target practice, and decks had run red with blood.
With the subsistence of the sea, we were able to go to work upon the damaged engines to some effect, and I also set men to examining the gravitation-screen generators with a view to putting them in working order should it prove not beyond our resources.
For two weeks we labored at the engines, which indisputably showed evidence of having been tampered with. I appointed a board to investigate and report upon the disaster. But it accomplished nothing other than to convince me that there were several officers upon it who were in full sympathy with Johnson, for, though no charges had been preferred against him, the board went out of its way specifically to exonerate him in its findings.
All this time we were drifting almost due east. The work upon the engines had progressed to such an extent that within a few hours we might expect to be able to proceed under our own power westward in the direction of Pan-American waters.
To relieve the monotony I had taken to fishing, and early that morning I had departed from the Coldwater in one of the boats on such an excursion. A gentle west wind was blowing. The sea shimmered in the sunlight. A cloudless sky canopied the west for our sport, as I had made it a point never voluntarily to make an inch toward the east that I could avoid. At least, they should not be able to charge me with a willful violation of the dead lines regulation.
I had with me only the boat's ordinary complement of men—three in all, and more than enough to handle any small power boat. I had not asked any of my officers to accompany me, as I wished to be alone, and very glad am I now that I had not. My only regret is that, in view of what befell us, it had been necessary to bring the three brave fellows who manned the boat.
Our fishing, which proved excellent, carried us so far to the west that we no longer could see the Coldwater. The day wore on, until at last, about mid-afternoon, I gave the order to return to the ship.
We had proceeded but a short distance toward the east when one of the men gave an exclamation of excitement, at the same time pointing eastward. We all looked on in the direction he had indicated, and there, a short distance above the horizon, we saw the outlines of the Coldwater silhouetted against the sky.
"They've repaired the engines and the generators both," exclaimed one of the men.
It seemed impossible, but yet it had evidently been done. Only that morning, Lieutenant Johnson had told me that he feared that it would be impossible to repair the generators. I had put him in charge of this work, since he always had been accounted one of the best gravitation-screen men in the navy. He had invented several of the improvements that are incorporated in the later models of these generators, and I am convinced that he knows more concerning both the theory and the practice of screening gravitation than any living Pan-American.
At the sight of the Coldwater once more under control, the three men burst into a glad cheer. But, for some reason which I could not then account, I was strangely overcome by a premonition of personal misfortune. It was not that I now anticipated an early return to Pan-America and a board of inquiry, for I had rather looked forward to the fight that must follow my return. No, there was something else, something indefinable and vague that cast a strange gloom upon me as I saw my ship rising farther above the water and making straight in our direction.
I was not long in ascertaining a possible explanation of my depression, for, though we were plainly visible from the bridge of the aero-submarine and to the hundreds of men who swarmed her deck, the ship passed directly above us, not five hundred feet from the water, and sped directly westward.
We all shouted, and I fired my pistol to attract their attention, though I knew full well that all who cared to had observed us, but the ship moved steadily away, growing smaller and smaller to our view until at last she passed completely out of sight.
What could it mean? I had left Alvarez in command. He was my most loyal subordinate. It was absolutely beyond the pale of possibility that Alvarez should desert me. No, there was some other explanation. Something occurred to place my second officer, Porfirio Johnson, in command. I was sure of it but why speculate? The futility of conjecture was only too palpable. The Coldwater had abandoned us in midocean. Doubtless none of us would survive to know why.
The young man at the wheel of the power boat had turned her nose about as it became evident that the ship intended passing over us, and now he still held her in futile pursuit of the Coldwater.
"Bring her about, Snider," I directed, "and hold her due east. We can't catch the Coldwater, and we can't cross the Atlantic in this. Our only hope lies in making the nearest land, which, unless I am mistaken, is the Scilly Islands, off the southwest coast of England. Ever heard of England, Snider?"
"There's a part of the United States of North America that used to be known to the ancients as New England," he replied. "Is that where you mean, sir?"
"No, Snider," I replied. "The England I refer to was an island off the continent of Europe. It was the seat of a very powerful kingdom that flourished over two hundred years ago. A part of the United States of North America and all of the Federated States of Canada once belonged to this ancient England."
"Europe," breathed one of the men, his voice tense with excitement. "My grandfather used to tell me stories of the world beyond thirty. He had been a great student, and he had read much from forbidden books."
"In which I resemble your grandfather," I said, "for I, too, have read more even than naval officers are supposed to read, and, as you men know, we are permitted a greater latitude in the study of geography and history than men of other professions.
"Among the books and papers of Admiral Porter Turck, who lived two hundred years ago, and from whom I am descended, many volumes still exist, and are in my possession, which deal with the history and geography of ancient Europe. Usually I bring several of these books with me upon a cruise, and this time, among others, I have maps of Europe and her surrounding waters. I was studying them as we came away from the Coldwater this morning, and luckily I have them with me."
"You are going to try to make Europe, sir?" asked Taylor, the young man who had last spoken.
"It is the nearest land," I replied. "I have always wanted to explore the forgotten lands of the Eastern Hemisphere. Here's our chance. To remain at sea is to perish. None of us ever will see home again. Let us make the best of it, and enjoy while we do live that which is forbidden the balance of our race—the adventure and the mystery which lie beyond thirty."
Taylor and Delcarte seized the spirit of my mood but Snider, I think, was a trifle sceptical.
"It is treason, sir," I replied, "but there is no law which compels us to visit punishment upon ourselves. Could we return to Pan-America, I should be the first to insist that we face it. But we know that's not possible. Even if this craft would carry us so far, we haven't enough water or food for more than three days.
"We are doomed, Snider, to die far from home and without ever again looking upon the face of another fellow countryman than those who sit here now in this boat. Isn't that punishment sufficient for even the most exacting judge?"
Even Snider had to admit that it was.
"Very well, then, let us live while we live, and enjoy to the fullest whatever of adventure or pleasure each new day brings, since any day may be our last, and we shall be dead for a considerable while."
I could see that Snider was still fearful, but Taylor and Delcarte responded with a hearty, "Aye, aye, sir!"
They were of different mold. Both were sons of naval officers. They represented the aristocracy of birth, and they dared to think for themselves.
Snider was in the minority, and so we continued toward the east. Beyond thirty, and separated from my ship, my authority ceased. I held leadership, if I was to hold it at all, by virtue of personal qualifications only, but I did not doubt my ability to remain the director of our destinies in so far as they were amenable to human agencies. I have always led. While my brain and brawn remain unimpaired I shall continue always to lead. Following is an art which Turcks do not easily learn.
It was not until the third day that we raised land, dead ahead, which I took, from my map, to be the isles of Scilly. But such a gale was blowing that I did not dare attempt to land, and so we passed to the north of them, skirted Land's End, and entered the English Channel.
I think that up to that moment I had never experienced such a thrill as passed through me when I realized that I was navigating these historic waters. The lifelong dreams that I never had dared hope to see fulfilled were at last a reality—but under what forlorn circumstances!
Never could I return to my native land. To the end of my days I must remain in exile. Yet even these thoughts failed to dampen my ardor.
My eyes scanned the waters. To the north I could see the rockbound coast of Cornwall. Mine were the first American eyes to rest upon it for more than two hundred years. In vain, I searched for some sign of ancient commerce that, if history is to be believed, must have dotted the bosom of the Channel with white sails and blackened the heavens with the smoke of countless funnels, but as far as eye could reach the tossing waters of the Channel were empty and deserted.
Toward midnight the wind and sea abated, so that shortly after dawn I determined to make inshore in an attempt to effect a landing, for we were sadly in need of fresh water and food.
According to my observations, we were just off Ram Head, and it was my intention to enter Plymouth Bay and visit Plymouth. From my map it appeared that this city lay back from the coast a short distance, and there was another city given as Devonport, which appeared to lie at the mouth of the river Tamar.
However, I knew that it would make little difference which city we entered, as the English people were famed of old for their hospitality toward visiting mariners. As we approached the mouth of the bay I looked for the fishing craft which I expected to see emerging thus early in the day for their labors. But even after we rounded Ram Head and were well within the waters of the bay I saw no vessel. Neither was there buoy nor light nor any other mark to show larger ships the channel, and I wondered much at this.
The coast was densely overgrown, nor was any building or sign of man apparent from the water. Up the bay and into the River Tamar we motored through a solitude as unbroken as that which rested upon the waters of the Channel. For all we could see, there was no indication that man had ever set his foot upon this silent coast.
I was nonplused, and then, for the first time, there crept over me an intuition of the truth.
Here was no sign of war. As far as this portion of the Devon coast was concerned, that seemed to have been over for many years, but neither were there any people. Yet I could not find it within myself to believe that I should find no inhabitants in England. Reasoning thus, I discovered that it was improbable that a state of war still existed, and that the people all had been drawn from this portion of England to some other, where they might better defend themselves against an invader.
But what of their ancient coast defenses? What was there here in Plymouth Bay to prevent an enemy landing in force and marching where they wished? Nothing. I could not believe that any enlightened military nation, such as the ancient English are reputed to have been, would have voluntarily so deserted an exposed coast and an excellent harbor to the mercies of an enemy.
I found myself becoming more and more deeply involved in quandary. The puzzle which confronted me I could not unravel. We had landed, and I now stood upon the spot where, according to my map, a large city should rear its spires and chimneys. There was nothing but rough, broken ground covered densely with weeds and brambles, and tall, rank, grass.
Had a city ever stood there, no sign of it remained. The roughness and unevenness of the ground suggested something of a great mass of debris hidden by the accumulation of centuries of undergrowth.
I drew the short cutlass with which both officers and men of the navy are, as you know, armed out of courtesy to the traditions and memories of the past, and with its point dug into the loam about the roots of the vegetation growing at my feet.
The blade entered the soil for a matter of seven inches, when it struck upon something stonelike. Digging about the obstacle, I presently loosened it, and when I had withdrawn it from its sepulcher I found the thing to be an ancient brick of clay, baked in an oven.
Delcarte we had left in charge of the boat; but Snider and Taylor were with me, and following my example, each engaged in the fascinating sport of prospecting for antiques. Each of us uncovered a great number of these bricks, until we commenced to weary of the monotony of it, when Snider suddenly gave an exclamation of excitement, and, as I turned to look, he held up a human skull for my inspection.
I took it from him and examined it. Directly in the center of the forehead was a small round hole. The gentleman had evidently come to his end defending his country from an invader.
Snider again held aloft another trophy of the search—a metal spike and some tarnished and corroded metal ornaments. They had lain close beside the skull.
With the point of his cutlass Snider scraped the dirt and verdigris from the face of the larger ornament.
"An inscription," he said, and handed the thing to me.
They were the spike and ornaments of an ancient German helmet. Before long we had uncovered many other indications that a great battle had been fought upon the ground where we stood. But I was then, and still am, at loss to account for the presence of German soldiers upon the English coast so far from London, which history suggests would have been the natural goal of an invader.
I can only account for it by assuming that either England was temporarily conquered by the Teutons, or that an invasion of so vast proportions was undertaken that German troops were hurled upon the England coast in huge numbers and that landings were necessarily effected at many places simultaneously. Subsequent discoveries tend to strengthen this view.
We dug about for a short time with our cutlasses until I became convinced that a city had stood upon the spot at some time in the past, and that beneath our feet, crumbled and dead, lay ancient Devonport.
I could not repress a sigh at the thought of the havoc war had wrought in this part of England, at least. Farther east, nearer London, we should find things very different. There would be the civilization that two centuries must have wrought upon our English cousins as they had upon us. There would be mighty cities, cultivated fields, happy people. There we would be welcomed as long-lost brothers. There would we find a great nation anxious to learn of the world beyond their side of thirty, as I had been anxious to learn of that which lay beyond our side of the dead line.
I turned back toward the boat.
"Come, men!" I said. "We will go up the river and fill our casks with fresh water, search for food and fuel, and then tomorrow be in readiness to push on toward the east. I am going to London."
The report of a gun blasted the silence of a dead Devonport with startling abruptness.
It came from the direction of the launch, and in an instant we three were running for the boat as fast as our legs would carry us. As we came in sight of it we saw Delcarte a hundred yards inland from the launch, leaning over something which lay upon the ground. As we called to him he waved his cap, and stooping, lifted a small deer for our inspection.
I was about to congratulate him on his trophy when we were startled by a horrid, half-human, half-bestial scream a little ahead and to the right of us. It seemed to come from a clump of rank and tangled bush not far from where Delcarte stood. It was a horrid, fearsome sound, the like of which never had fallen upon my ears before.
We looked in the direction from which it came. The smile had died from Delcarte's lips. Even at the distance we were from him I saw his face go suddenly white, and he quickly threw his rifle to his shoulder. At the same moment the thing that had given tongue to the cry moved from the concealing brushwood far enough for us, too, to see it.
Both Taylor and Snider gave little gasps of astonishment and dismay.
"What is it, sir?" asked the latter.
The creature stood about the height of a tall man's waist, and was long and gaunt and sinuous, with a tawny coat striped with black, and with white throat and belly. In conformation it was similar to a cat—a huge cat, exaggerated colossal cat, with fiendish eyes and the most devilish cast of countenance, as it wrinkled its bristling snout and bared its great yellow fangs.
It was pacing, or rather, slinking, straight for Delcarte, who had now leveled his rifle upon it.
"What is it, sir?" mumbled Snider again, and then a half-forgotten picture from an old natural history sprang to my mind, and I recognized in the frightful beast the Felis tigris of ancient Asia, specimens of which had, in former centuries, been exhibited in the Western Hemisphere.
Snider and Taylor were armed with rifles and revolvers, while I carried only a revolver. Seizing Snider's rifle from his trembling hands, I called to Taylor to follow me, and together we ran forward, shouting, to attract the beast's attention from Delcarte until we should all be quite close enough to attack with the greatest assurance of success.
I cried to Delcarte not to fire until we reached his side, for I was fearful lest our small caliber, steel-jacketed bullets should, far from killing the beast, tend merely to enrage it still further. But he misunderstood me, thinking that I had ordered him to fire.
With the report of his rifle the tiger stopped short in apparent surprise, then turned and bit savagely at its shoulder for an instant, after which it wheeled again toward Delcarte, issuing the most terrific roars and screams, and launched itself, with incredible speed, toward the brave fellow, who now stood his ground pumping bullets from his automatic rifle as rapidly as the weapon would fire.
Taylor and I also opened up on the creature, and as it was broadside to us it offered a splendid target, though for all the impression we appeared to make upon the great cat we might as well have been launching soap bubbles at it.
Straight as a torpedo it rushed for Delcarte, and, as Taylor and I stumbled on through the tall grass toward our unfortunate comrade, we saw the tiger rear upon him and crush him to the earth.
Not a backward step had the noble Delcarte taken. Two hundred years of peace had not sapped the red blood from his courageous line. He went down beneath that avalanche of bestial savagery still working his gun and with his face toward his antagonist. Even in the instant that I thought him dead I could not help but feel a thrill of pride that he was one of my men, one of my class, a Pan-American gentleman of birth. And that he had demonstrated one of the principal contentions of the army-and-navy adherents—that military training was necessary for the salvation of personal courage in the Pan-American race which for generations had had to face no dangers more grave than those incident to ordinary life in a highly civilized community, safeguarded by every means at the disposal of a perfectly organized and all-powerful government utilizing the best that advanced science could suggest.
As we ran toward Delcarte, both Taylor and I were struck by the fact that the beast upon him appeared not to be mauling him, but lay quiet and motionless upon its prey, and when we were quite close, and the muzzles of our guns were at the animal's head, I saw the explanation of this sudden cessation of hostilities—Felis tigris was dead.
One of our bullets, or one of the last that Delcarte fired, had penetrated the heart, and the beast had died even as it sprawled forward crushing Delcarte to the ground.
A moment later, with our assistance, the man had scrambled from beneath the carcass of his would-be slayer, without a scratch to indicate how close to death he had been.
Delcarte's buoyance was entirely unruffled. He came from under the tiger with a broad grin on his handsome face, nor could I perceive that a muscle trembled or that his voice showed the least indication of nervousness or excitement.
With the termination of the adventure, we began to speculate upon the explanation of the presence of this savage brute at large so great a distance from its native habitat. My readings had taught me that it was practically unknown outside of Asia, and that, so late as the twentieth century, at least, there had been no savage beasts outside captivity in England.
As we talked, Snider joined us, and I returned his rifle to him. Taylor and Delcarte picked up the slain deer, and we all started down toward the launch, walking slowly. Delcarte wanted to fetch the tiger's skin, but I had to deny him permission, since we had no means to properly cure it.
Upon the beach, we skinned the deer and cut away as much meat as we thought we could dispose of, and as we were again embarking to continue up the river for fresh water and fuel, we were startled by a series of screams from the bushes a short distance away.
"Another Felis tigris," said Taylor.
"Or a dozen of them," supplemented Delcarte, and, even as he spoke, there leaped into sight, one after another, eight of the beasts, full grown—magnificent specimens.
At the sight of us, they came charging down like infuriated demons. I saw that three rifles would be no match for them, and so I gave the word to put out from shore, hoping that the "tiger," as the ancients called him, could not swim.
Sure enough, they all halted at the beach, pacing back and forth, uttering fiendish cries, and glaring at us in the most malevolent manner.
As we motored away, we presently heard the calls of similar animals far inland. They seemed to be answering the cries of their fellows at the water's edge, and from the wide distribution and great volume of the sound we came to the conclusion that enormous numbers of these beasts must roam the adjacent country.
"They have eaten up the inhabitants," murmured Snider, shuddering.
"I imagine you are right," I agreed, "for their extreme boldness and fearlessness in the presence of man would suggest either that man is entirely unknown to them, or that they are extremely familiar with him as their natural and most easily procured prey."
"But where did they come from?" asked Delcarte. "Could they have traveled here from Asia?"
I shook my head. The thing was a puzzle to me. I knew that it was practically beyond reason to imagine that tigers had crossed the mountain ranges and rivers and all the great continent of Europe to travel this far from their native lairs, and entirely impossible that they should have crossed the English Channel at all. Yet here they were, and in great numbers.
We continued up the Tamar several miles, filled our casks, and then landed to cook some of our deer steak, and have the first square meal that had fallen to our lot since the Coldwater deserted us. But scarce had we built our fire and prepared the meat for cooking than Snider, whose eyes had been constantly roving about the landscape from the moment that we left the launch, touched me on the arm and pointed to a clump of bushes which grew a couple of hundred yards away.
Half concealed behind their screening foliage I saw the yellow and black of a big tiger, and, as I looked, the beast stalked majestically toward us. A moment later, he was followed by another and another, and it is needless to state that we beat a hasty retreat to the launch.
The country was apparently infested by these huge Carnivora, for after three other attempts to land and cook our food we were forced to abandon the idea entirely, as each time we were driven off by hunting tigers.
It was also equally impossible to obtain the necessary ingredients for our chemical fuel, and, as we had very little left aboard, we determined to step our folding mast and proceed under sail, hoarding our fuel supply for use in emergencies.
I may say that it was with no regret that we bid adieu to Tigerland, as we rechristened the ancient Devon, and, beating out into the Channel, turned the launch's nose southeast, to round Bolt Head and continue up the coast toward the Strait of Dover and the North Sea.
I was determined to reach London as soon as possible, that we might obtain fresh clothing, meet with cultured people, and learn from the lips of Englishmen the secrets of the two centuries since the East had been divorced from the West.
Our first stopping place was the Isle of Wight. We entered the Solent about ten o'clock one morning, and I must confess that my heart sank as we came close to shore. No lighthouse was visible, though one was plainly indicated upon my map. Upon neither shore was sign of human habitation. We skirted the northern shore of the island in fruitless search for man, and then at last landed upon an eastern point, where Newport should have stood, but where only weeds and great trees and tangled wild wood rioted, and not a single manmade thing was visible to the eye.
Before landing, I had the men substitute soft bullets for the steel-jacketed projectiles with which their belts and magazines were filled. Thus equipped, we felt upon more even terms with the tigers, but there was no sign of the tigers, and I decided that they must be confined to the mainland.
After eating, we set out in search of fuel, leaving Taylor to guard the launch. For some reason I could not trust Snider alone. I knew that he looked with disapproval upon my plan to visit England, and I did not know but what at his first opportunity, he might desert us, taking the launch with him, and attempt to return to Pan-America.
That he would be fool enough to venture it, I did not doubt.
We had gone inland for a mile or more, and were passing through a park-like wood, when we came suddenly upon the first human beings we had seen since we sighted the English coast.
There were a score of men in the party. Hairy, half-naked men they were, resting in the shade of a great tree. At the first sight of us they sprang to their feet with wild yells, seizing long spears that had lain beside them as they rested.
For a matter of fifty yards they ran from us as rapidly as they could, and then they turned and surveyed us for a moment. Evidently emboldened by the scarcity of our numbers, they commenced to advance upon us, brandishing their spears and shouting horribly.
They were short and muscular of build, with long hair and beards tangled and matted with filth. Their heads, however, were shapely, and their eyes, though fierce and warlike, were intelligent.
Appreciation of these physical attributes came later, of course, when I had better opportunity to study the men at close range and under circumstances less fraught with danger and excitement. At the moment I saw, and with unmixed wonder, only a score of wild savages charging down upon us, where I had expected to find a community of civilized and enlightened people.
Each of us was armed with rifle, revolver, and cutlass, but as we stood shoulder to shoulder facing the wild men I was loath to give the command to fire upon them, inflicting death or suffering upon strangers with whom we had no quarrel, and so I attempted to restrain them for the moment that we might parley with them.
To this end I raised my left hand above my head with the palm toward them as the most natural gesture indicative of peaceful intentions which occurred to me. At the same time I called aloud to them that we were friends, though, from their appearance, there was nothing to indicate that they might understand Pan-American, or ancient English, which are of course practically identical.
At my gesture and words they ceased their shouting and came to a halt a few paces from us. Then, in deep tones, one who was in advance of the others and whom I took to be the chief or leader of the party replied in a tongue which while intelligible to us, was so distorted from the English language from which it evidently had sprung, that it was with difficulty that we interpreted it.
"Who are you," he asked, "and from what country?"
I told him that we were from Pan-America, but he only shook his head and asked where that was. He had never heard of it, or of the Atlantic Ocean which I told him separated his country from mine.
"It has been two hundred years," I told him, "since a Pan-American visited England."
"England?" he asked. "What is England?"
"Why this is a part of England!" I exclaimed.
"This is Grubitten," he assured me. "I know nothing about England, and I have lived here all my life."
It was not until long after that the derivation of Grubitten occurred to me. Unquestionably it is a corruption of Great Britain, a name formerly given to the large island comprising England, Scotland and Wales. Subsequently we heard it pronounced Grabrittin and Grubritten.
I then asked the fellow if he could direct us to Ryde or Newport; but again he shook his head, and said that he never had heard of such countries. And when I asked him if there were any cities in this country he did not know what I meant, never having heard the word cities.
I explained my meaning as best I could by stating that by city I referred to a place where many people lived together in houses.
"Oh," he exclaimed, "you mean a camp! Yes, there are two great camps here, East Camp and West Camp. We are from East Camp."
The use of the word camp to describe a collection of habitations naturally suggested war to me, and my next question was as to whether the war was over, and who had been victorious.
"No," he replied to this question. "The war is not yet over. But it soon will be, and it will end, as it always does, with the Westenders running away. We, the Eastenders, are always victorious."
"No," I said, seeing that he referred to the petty tribal wars of his little island, "I mean the Great War, the war with Germany. Is it ended—and who was victorious?"
He shook his head impatiently.
"I never heard," he said, "of any of these strange countries of which you speak."
It seemed incredible, and yet it was true. These people living at the very seat of the Great War knew nothing of it, though but two centuries had passed since, to our knowledge, it had been running in the height of its titanic frightfulness all about them, and to us upon the far side of the Atlantic still was a subject of keen interest.
Here was a lifelong inhabitant of the Isle of Wight who never had heard of either Germany or England! I turned to him quite suddenly with a new question.
"What people live upon the mainland?" I asked, and pointed in the direction of the Hants coast.
"No one lives there," he replied.
"Long ago, it is said, my people dwelt across the waters upon that other land; but the wild beasts devoured them in such numbers that finally they were driven here, paddling across upon logs and driftwood, nor has any dared return since, because of the frightful creatures which dwell in that horrid country."
"Do no other peoples ever come to your country in ships?" I asked.
He never heard the word ship before, and did not know its meaning. But he assured me that until we came he had thought that there were no other peoples in the world other than the Grubittens, who consist of the Eastenders and the Westenders of the ancient Isle of Wight.
Assured that we were inclined to friendliness, our new acquaintances led us to their village, or, as they call it, camp. There we found a thousand people, perhaps, dwelling in rude shelters, and living upon the fruits of the chase and such sea food as is obtainable close to shore, for they had no boats, nor any knowledge of such things.
Their weapons were most primitive, consisting of rude spears tipped with pieces of metal pounded roughly into shape. They had no literature, no religion, and recognized no law other than the law of might. They produced fire by striking a bit of flint and steel together, but for the most part they ate their food raw. Marriage is unknown among them, and while they have the word, mother, they did not know what I meant by "father." The males fight for the favor of the females. They practice infanticide, and kill the aged and physically unfit.
The family consists of the mother and the children, the men dwelling sometimes in one hut and sometimes in another. Owing to their bloody duels, they are always numerically inferior to the women, so there is shelter for them all.
We spent several hours in the village, where we were objects of the greatest curiosity. The inhabitants examined our clothing and all our belongings, and asked innumerable questions concerning the strange country from which we had come and the manner of our coming.
I questioned many of them concerning past historical events, but they knew nothing beyond the narrow limits of their island and the savage, primitive life they led there. London they had never heard of, and they assured me that I would find no human beings upon the mainland.
Much saddened by what I had seen, I took my departure from them, and the three of us made our way back to the launch, accompanied by about five hundred men, women, girls, and boys.
As we sailed away, after procuring the necessary ingredients of our chemical fuel, the Grubittens lined the shore in silent wonder at the strange sight of our dainty craft dancing over the sparkling waters, and watched us until we were lost to their sight.
It was during the morning of July 6, 2137, that we entered the mouth of the Thames—to the best of my knowledge the first Western keel to cut those historic waters for two hundred and twenty-one years!
But where were the tugs and the lighters and the barges, the lightships and the buoys, and all those countless attributes which went to make up the myriad life of the ancient Thames?
Gone! All gone! Only silence and desolation reigned where once the commerce of the world had centered.
I could not help but compare this once great water-way with the waters about our New York, or Rio, or San Diego, or Valparaiso. They had become what they are today during the two centuries of the profound peace which we of the navy have been prone to deplore. And what, during this same period, had shorn the waters of the Thames of their pristine grandeur?
Militarist that I am, I could find but a single word of explanation—war!
I bowed my head and turned my eyes downward from the lonely and depressing sight, and in a silence which none of us seemed willing to break, we proceeded up the deserted river.
We had reached a point which, from my map, I imagined must have been about the former site of Erith, when I discovered a small band of antelope a short distance inland. As we were now entirely out of meat once more, and as I had given up all expectations of finding a city upon the site of ancient London, I determined to land and bag a couple of the animals.
Assured that they would be timid and easily frightened, I decided to stalk them alone, telling the men to wait at the boat until I called to them to come and carry the carcasses back to the shore.
Crawling carefully through the vegetation, making use of such trees and bushes as afforded shelter, I came at last almost within easy range of my quarry, when the antlered head of the buck went suddenly into the air, and then, as though in accordance with a prearranged signal, the whole band moved slowly off, farther inland.
As their pace was leisurely, I determined to follow them until I came again within range, as I was sure that they would stop and feed in a short time.
They must have led me a mile or more at least before they again halted and commenced to browse upon the rank, luxuriant grasses. All the time that I had followed them I had kept both eyes and ears alert for sign or sound that would indicate the presence of Felis tigris; but so far not the slightest indication of the beast had been apparent.
As I crept closer to the antelope, sure this time of a good shot at a large buck, I suddenly saw something that caused me to forget all about my prey in wonderment.
It was the figure of an immense grey-black creature, rearing its colossal shoulders twelve or fourteen feet above the ground. Never in my life had I seen such a beast, nor did I at first recognize it, so different in appearance is the live reality from the stuffed, unnatural specimens preserved to us in our museums.
But presently I guessed the identity of the mighty creature as Elephas africanus, or, as the ancients commonly described it, African elephant.
The antelope, although in plain view of the huge beast, paid not the slightest attention to it, and I was so wrapped up in watching the mighty pachyderm that I quite forgot to shoot at the buck and presently, and in quite a startling manner, it became impossible to do so.
The elephant was browsing upon the young and tender shoots of some low bushes, waving his great ears and switching his short tail. The antelope, scarce twenty paces from him, continued their feeding, when suddenly, from close beside the latter, there came a most terrifying roar, and I saw a great, tawny body shoot, from the concealing verdure beyond the antelope, full upon the back of a small buck.
Instantly the scene changed from one of quiet and peace to indescribable chaos. The startled and terrified buck uttered cries of agony. His fellows broke and leaped off in all directions. The elephant raised his trunk, and, trumpeting loudly, lumbered off through the wood, crushing down small trees and trampling bushes in his mad flight.
Growling horribly, a huge lion stood across the body of his prey—such a creature as no Pan-American of the twenty-second century had ever beheld until my eyes rested upon this lordly specimen of "the king of beasts." But what a different creature was this fierce-eyed demon, palpitating with life and vigor, glossy of coat, alert, growling, magnificent, from the dingy, moth-eaten replicas beneath their glass cases in the stuffy halls of our public museums.
I had never hoped or expected to see a living lion, tiger, or elephant—using the common terms that were familiar to the ancients, since they seem to me less unwieldy than those now in general use among us—and so it was with sentiments not unmixed with awe that I stood gazing at this regal beast as, above the carcass of his kill, he roared out his challenge to the world.
So enthralled was I by the spectacle that I quite forgot myself, and the better to view him, the great lion, I had risen to my feet and stood, not fifty paces from him, in full view.
For a moment he did not see me, his attention being directed toward the retreating elephant, and I had ample time to feast my eyes upon his splendid proportions, his great head, and his thick black mane.
Ah, what thoughts passed through my mind in those brief moments as I stood there in rapt fascination! I had come to find a wondrous civilization, and instead I found a wild-beast monarch of the realm where English kings had ruled. A lion reigned, undisturbed, within a few miles of the seat of one of the greatest governments the world has ever known, his domain a howling wilderness, where yesterday fell the shadows of the largest city in the world.
It was appalling; but my reflections upon this depressing subject were doomed to sudden extinction. The lion had discovered me.
For an instant he stood silent and motionless as one of the mangy effigies at home, but only for an instant. Then, with a most ferocious roar, and without the slightest hesitancy or warning, he charged upon me.
He forsook the prey already dead beneath him for the pleasures of the delectable tidbit, man. From the remorselessness with which the great Carnivora of modern England hunted man, I am constrained to believe that, whatever their appetites in times past, they have cultivated a gruesome taste for human flesh.
As I threw my rifle to my shoulder, I thanked God, the ancient God of my ancestors, that I had replaced the hard-jacketed bullets in my weapon with soft-nosed projectiles, for though this was my first experience with Felis leo, I knew the moment that I faced that charge that even my wonderfully perfected firearm would be as futile as a peashooter unless I chanced to place my first bullet in a vital spot.
Unless you had seen it you could not believe credible the speed of a charging lion. Apparently the animal is not built for speed, nor can he maintain it for long. But for a matter of forty or fifty yards there is, I believe, no animal on earth that can overtake him.
Like a bolt he bore down upon me, but, fortunately for me, I did not lose my head. I guessed that no bullet would kill him instantly. I doubted that I could pierce his skull. There was hope, though, in finding his heart through his exposed chest, or, better yet, of breaking his shoulder or foreleg, and bringing him up long enough to pump more bullets into him and finish him.
I covered his left shoulder and pulled the trigger as he was almost upon me. It stopped him. With a terrific howl of pain and rage, the brute rolled over and over upon the ground almost to my feet. As he came I pumped two more bullets into him, and as he struggled to rise, clawing viciously at me, I put a bullet in his spine.
That finished him, and I am free to admit that I was mighty glad of it. There was a great tree close behind me, and, stepping within its shade, I leaned against it, wiping the perspiration from my face, for the day was hot, and the exertion and excitement left me exhausted.
I stood there, resting, for a moment, preparatory to turning and retracing my steps to the launch, when, without warning, something whizzed through space straight toward me. There was a dull thud of impact as it struck the tree, and as I dodged to one side and turned to look at the thing I saw a heavy spear imbedded in the wood not three inches from where my head had been.
The thing had come from a little to one side of me, and, without waiting to investigate at the instant, I leaped behind the tree, and, circling it, peered around the other side to get a sight of my would-be murderer.
This time I was pitted against men—the spear told me that all too plainly—but so long as they didn't take me unawares or from behind I had little fear of them.
Cautiously I edged about the far side of the trees until I could obtain a view of the spot from which the spear must have come, and when I did I saw the head of a man just emerging from behind a bush.
The fellow was quite similar in type to those I had seen upon the Isle of Wight. He was hairy and unkempt, and as he finally stepped into view I saw that he was garbed in the same primitive fashion.
He stood for a moment gazing about in search of me, and then he advanced. As he did so a number of others, precisely like him, stepped from the concealing verdure of nearby bushes and followed in his wake. Keeping the trees between them and me, I ran back a short distance until I found a clump of underbrush that would effectually conceal me, for I wished to discover the strength of the party and its armament before attempting to parley with it.
The useless destruction of any of these poor creatures was the farthest idea from my mind. I should have liked to have spoken with them, but I did not care to risk having to use my high-powered rifle upon them other than in the last extremity.
Once in my new place of concealment, I watched them as they approached the tree. There were about thirty men in the party and one woman—a girl whose hands seemed to be bound behind her and who was being pulled along by two of the men.
They came forward warily, peering cautiously into every bush and halting often. At the body of the lion, they paused, and I could see from their gesticulations and the higher pitch of their voices that they were much excited over my kill.
But presently they resumed their search for me, and as they advanced I became suddenly aware of the unnecessary brutality with which the girl's guards were treating her. She stumbled once, not far from my place of concealment, and after the balance of the party had passed me. As she did so one of the men at her side jerked her roughly to her feet and struck her across the mouth with his fist.
Instantly my blood boiled, and forgetting every consideration of caution, I leaped from my concealment, and, springing to the man's side, felled him with a blow.
So unexpected had been my act that it found him and his fellow unprepared; but instantly the latter drew the knife that protruded from his belt and lunged viciously at me, at the same time giving voice to a wild cry of alarm.
The girl shrank back at sight of me, her eyes wide in astonishment, and then my antagonist was upon me. I parried his first blow with my forearm, at the same time delivering a powerful blow to his jaw that sent him reeling back; but he was at me again in an instant, though in the brief interim I had time to draw my revolver.
I saw his companion crawling slowly to his feet, and the others of the party racing down upon me. There was no time to argue now, other than with the weapons we wore, and so, as the fellow lunged at me again with the wicked-looking knife, I covered his heart and pulled the trigger.
Without a sound, he slipped to the earth, and then I turned the weapon upon the other guard, who was now about to attack me. He, too, collapsed, and I was alone with the astonished girl.
The balance of the party was some twenty paces from us, but coming rapidly. I seized her arm and drew her after me behind a nearby tree, for I had seen that with both their comrades down the others were preparing to launch their spears.
With the girl safe behind the tree, I stepped out in sight of the advancing foe, shouting to them that I was no enemy, and that they should halt and listen to me. But for answer they only yelled in derision and launched a couple of spears at me, both of which missed.
I saw then that I must fight, yet still I hated to slay them, and it was only as a final resort that I dropped two of them with my rifle, bringing the others to a temporary halt. Again, I appealed to them to desist. But they only mistook my solicitude for them for fear, and, with shouts of rage and derision, leaped forward once again to overwhelm me.
It was now quite evident that I must punish them severely, or—myself—die and relinquish the girl once more to her captors. Neither of these things had I the slightest notion of doing, and so I again stepped from behind the tree, and, with all the care and deliberation of target practice, I commenced picking off the foremost of my assailants.
One by one the wild men dropped, yet on came the others, fierce and vengeful, until, only a few remaining, these seemed to realize the futility of combating my modern weapon with their primitive spears, and, still howling wrathfully, withdrew toward the west.
Now, for the first time, I had an opportunity to turn my attention toward the girl, who had stood, silent and motionless, behind me as I pumped death into my enemies and hers from my automatic rifle.
She was of medium height, well formed, and with fine, clear-cut features. Her forehead was high, and her eyes both intelligent and beautiful. Exposure to the sun had browned a smooth and velvety skin to a shade which seemed to enhance rather than mar an altogether lovely picture of youthful femininity.
A trace of apprehension marked her expression—I cannot call it fear since I have learned to know her—and astonishment was still apparent in her eyes. She stood quite erect, her hands still bound behind her, and met my gaze with level, proud return.
"What language do you speak?" I asked. "Do you understand mine?"
"Yes," she replied. "It is similar to my own. I am Grabritin. What are you?"
"I am a Pan-American," I answered. She shook her head. "What is that?"
I pointed toward the west. "Far away, across the ocean."
Her expression altered a trifle. A slight frown contracted her brow. The expression of apprehension deepened.
"Take off your cap," she said, and when, to humor her strange request, I did as she bid, she appeared relieved. Then she edged to one side and leaned over seemingly to peer behind me. I turned quickly to see what she discovered, but finding nothing, wheeled about to see that her expression was once more altered.
"You are not from there?" and she pointed toward the east. It was a half question. "You are not from across the water there?"
"No," I assured her. "I am from Pan-America, far away to the west. Have you ever heard of Pan-America?"
She shook her head in negation. "I do not care where you are from," she explained, "if you are not from there, and I am sure you are not, for the men from there have horns and tails."
It was with difficulty that I restrained a smile.
"Who are the men from there?" I asked.
"They are bad men," she replied. "Some of my people do not believe that there are such creatures. But we have a legend—a very old, old legend, that once the men from there came across to Grabritin. They came upon the water, and under the water, and even in the air. They came in great numbers, so that they rolled across the land like a great gray fog. They brought with them thunder and lightning and smoke that killed, and they fell upon us and slew our people by the thousands and the hundreds of thousands. But at last we drove them back to the water's edge, back into the sea, where many were drowned. Some escaped, and these our people followed—men, women, and even children, we followed them back. That is all. The legend says our people never returned. Maybe they were all killed. Maybe they are still there. But this, also, is in the legend, that as we drove the men back across the water they swore that they would return, and that when they left our shores they would leave no human being alive behind them. I was afraid that you were from there."
"By what name were these men called?" I asked.
"We call them only the 'men from there,'" she replied, pointing toward the east. "I have never heard that they had another name."
In the light of what I knew of ancient history, it was not difficult for me to guess the nationality of those she described simply as "the men from over there." But what utter and appalling devastation the Great War must have wrought to have erased not only every sign of civilization from the face of this great land, but even the name of the enemy from the knowledge and language of the people.
I could only account for it on the hypothesis that the country had been entirely depopulated except for a few scattered and forgotten children, who, in some marvelous manner, had been preserved by Providence to re-populate the land. These children had, doubtless, been too young to retain in their memories to transmit to their children any but the vaguest suggestion of the cataclysm which had overwhelmed their parents.
Professor Cortoran, since my return to Pan-America, has suggested another theory which is not entirely without claim to serious consideration. He points out that it is quite beyond the pale of human instinct to desert little children as my theory suggests the ancient English must have done. He is more inclined to believe that the expulsion of the foe from England was synchronous with widespread victories by the allies upon the continent, and that the people of England merely emigrated from their ruined cities and their devastated, blood-drenched fields to the mainland, in the hope of finding, in the domain of the conquered enemy, cities and farms which would replace those they had lost.
The learned professor assumes that while a long-continued war had strengthened rather than weakened the instinct of paternal devotion, it had also dulled other humanitarian instincts, and raised to the first magnitude the law of the survival of the fittest, with the result that when the exodus took place the strong, the intelligent, and the cunning, together with their offspring, crossed the waters of the Channel or the North Sea to the continent, leaving in unhappy England only the helpless inmates of asylums for the feebleminded and insane.
My objections to this, that the present inhabitants of England are mentally fit, and could therefore not have descended from an ancestry of undiluted lunacy he brushes aside with the assertion that insanity is not necessarily hereditary; and that even though it was, in many cases a return to natural conditions from the state of high civilization, which is thought to have induced mental disease in the ancient world, would, after several generations, have thoroughly expunged every trace of the affliction from the brains and nerves of the descendants of the original maniacs.
Personally, I do not place much stock in Professor Cortoran's theory, though I admit that I am prejudiced. Naturally one does not care to believe that the object of his greatest affection is descended from a gibbering idiot and a raving maniac.
But I am forgetting the continuity of my narrative—a continuity which I desire to maintain, though I fear that I shall often be led astray, so numerous and varied are the bypaths of speculation which lead from the present day story of the Grabritins into the mysterious past of their forbears.
As I stood talking with the girl I presently recollected that she still was bound, and with a word of apology, I drew my knife and cut the rawhide thongs which confined her wrists at her back.
She thanked me, and with such a sweet smile that I should have been amply repaid by it for a much more arduous service.
"And now," I said, "let me accompany you to your home and see you safely again under the protection of your friends."
"No," she said, with a hint of alarm in her voice; "you must not come with me—Buckingham will kill you."
Buckingham. The name was famous in ancient English history. Its survival, with many other illustrious names, is one of the strongest arguments in refutal of Professor Cortoran's theory; yet it opens no new doors to the past, and, on the whole, rather adds to than dissipates the mystery.
"And who is Buckingham," I asked, "and why should he wish to kill me?"
"He would think that you had stolen me," she replied, "and as he wishes me for himself, he will kill any other whom he thinks desires me. He killed Wettin a few days ago. My mother told me once that Wettin was my father. He was king. Now Buckingham is king."
Here, evidently, were a people slightly superior to those of the Isle of Wight. These must have at least the rudiments of civilized government since they recognized one among them as ruler, with the title, king. Also, they retained the word father. The girl's pronunciation, while far from identical with ours, was much closer than the tortured dialect of the Eastenders of the Isle of Wight. The longer I talked with her the more hopeful I became of finding here, among her people, some records, or traditions, which might assist in clearing up the historic enigma of the past two centuries. I asked her if we were far from the city of London, but she did not know what I meant. When I tried to explain, describing mighty buildings of stone and brick, broad avenues, parks, palaces, and countless people, she but shook her head sadly.
"There is no such place near by," she said. "Only the Camp of the Lions has places of stone where the beasts lair, but there are no people in the Camp of the Lions. Who would dare go there!" And she shuddered.
"The Camp of the Lions," I repeated. "And where is that, and what?"
"It is there," she said, pointing up the river toward the west. "I have seen it from a great distance, but I have never been there. We are much afraid of the lions, for this is their country, and they are angry that man has come to live here.
"Far away there," and she pointed toward the south-west, "is the land of tigers, which is even worse than this, the land of the lions, for the tigers are more numerous than the lions and hungrier for human flesh. There were tigers here long ago, but both the lions and the men set upon them and drove them off."
"Where did these savage beasts come from?" I asked.
"Oh," she replied, "they have been here always. It is their country."
"Do they not kill and eat your people?" I asked.
"Often, when we meet them by accident, and we are too few to slay them, or when one goes too close to their camp. But seldom do they hunt us, for they find what food they need among the deer and wild cattle, and, too, we make them gifts, for are we not intruders in their country? Really we live upon good terms with them, though I should not care to meet one were there not many spears in my party."
"I should like to visit this Camp of the Lions," I said.
"Oh, no, you must not!" cried the girl. "That would be terrible. They would eat you." For a moment, then, she seemed lost in thought, but presently she turned upon me with: "You must go now, for any minute Buckingham may come in search of me. Long since should they have learned that I am gone from the camp—they watch over me very closely—and they will set out after me. Go! I shall wait here until they come in search of me."
"No," I told her. "I'll not leave you alone in a land infested by lions and other wild beasts. If you won't let me go as far as your camp with you, then I'll wait here until they come in search of you."
"Please go!" she begged. "You have saved me, and I would save you, but nothing will save you if Buckingham gets his hands on you. He is a bad man. He wishes to have me for his woman so that he may be king. He would kill anyone who befriended me, for fear that I might become another's."
"Didn't you say that Buckingham is already the king?" I asked.
"He is. He took my mother for his woman after he had killed Wettin. But my mother will die soon—she is very old—and then the man to whom I belong will become king."
Finally, after much questioning, I got the thing through my head. It appears that the line of descent is through the women. A man is merely head of his wife's family—that is all. If she chances to be the oldest female member of the "royal" house, he is king. Very naively the girl explained that there was seldom any doubt as to whom a child's mother was.
This accounted for the girl's importance in the community and for Buckingham's anxiety to claim her, though she told me that she did not wish to become his woman, for he was a bad man and would make a bad king. But he was powerful, and there was no other man who dared dispute his wishes.
"Why not come with me," I suggested, "if you do not wish to become Buckingham's?"
"Where would you take me?" she asked.
Where, indeed! I had not thought of that. But before I could reply to her question she shook her head and said, "No, I cannot leave my people. I must stay and do my best, even if Buckingham gets me, but you must go at once. Do not wait until it is too late. The lions have had no offering for a long time, and Buckingham would seize upon the first stranger as a gift to them."
I did not perfectly understand what she meant, and was about to ask her when a heavy body leaped upon me from behind, and great arms encircled my neck. I struggled to free myself and turn upon my antagonist, but in another instant I was overwhelmed by a half dozen powerful, half-naked men, while a score of others surrounded me, a couple of whom seized the girl.
I fought as best I could for my liberty and for hers, but the weight of numbers was too great, though I had the satisfaction at least of giving them a good fight.
When they had overpowered me, and I stood, my hands bound behind me, at the girl's side, she gazed commiseratingly at me.
"It is too bad that you did not do as I bid you," she said, "for now it has happened just as I feared—Buckingham has you."
"Which is Buckingham?" I asked.
"I am Buckingham," growled a burly, unwashed brute, swaggering truculently before me. "And who are you who would have stolen my woman?"
The girl spoke up then and tried to explain that I had not stolen her; but on the contrary I had saved her from the men from the "Elephant Country" who were carrying her away.
Buckingham only sneered at her explanation, and a moment later gave the command that started us all off toward the west. We marched for a matter of an hour or so, coming at last to a collection of rude huts, fashioned from branches of trees covered with skins and grasses and sometimes plastered with mud. All about the camp they had erected a wall of saplings pointed at the tops and fire hardened.
This palisade was a protection against both man and beasts, and within it dwelt upward of two thousand persons, the shelters being built very close together, and sometimes partially underground, like deep trenches, with the poles and hides above merely as protection from the sun and rain.
The older part of the camp consisted almost wholly of trenches, as though this had been the original form of dwellings which was slowly giving way to the drier and airier surface domiciles. In these trench habitations I saw a survival of the military trenches which formed so famous a part of the operation of the warring nations during the twentieth century.
The women wore a single light deerskin about their hips, for it was summer, and quite warm. The men, too, were clothed in a single garment, usually the pelt of some beast of prey. The hair of both men and women was confined by a rawhide thong passing about the forehead and tied behind. In this leathern band were stuck feathers, flowers, or the tails of small mammals. All wore necklaces of the teeth or claws of wild beasts, and there were numerous metal wristlets and anklets among them.
They wore, in fact, every indication of a most primitive people—a race which had not yet risen to the heights of agriculture or even the possession of domestic animals. They were hunters—the lowest plane in the evolution of the human race of which science takes cognizance.
And yet as I looked at their well shaped heads, their handsome features, and their intelligent eyes, it was difficult to believe that I was not among my own. It was only when I took into consideration their mode of living, their scant apparel, the lack of every least luxury among them, that I was forced to admit that they were, in truth, but ignorant savages.
Buckingham had relieved me of my weapons, though he had not the slightest idea of their purpose or uses, and when we reached the camp he exhibited both me and my arms with every indication of pride in this great capture.
The inhabitants flocked around me, examining my clothing, and exclaiming in wonderment at each new discovery of button, buckle, pocket, and flap. It seemed incredible that such a thing could be, almost within a stone's throw of the spot where but a brief two centuries before had stood the greatest city of the world.
They bound me to a small tree that grew in the middle of one of their crooked streets, but the girl they released as soon as we had entered the enclosure. The people greeted her with every mark of respect as she hastened to a large hut near the center of the camp.
Presently she returned with a fine looking, white-haired woman, who proved to be her mother. The older woman carried herself with a regal dignity that seemed quite remarkable in a place of such primitive squalor.
The people fell aside as she approached, making a wide way for her and her daughter. When they had come near and stopped before me the older woman addressed me.
"My daughter has told me," she said, "of the manner in which you rescued her from the men of the elephant country. If Wettin lived you would be well treated, but Buckingham has taken me now, and is king. You can hope for nothing from such a beast as Buckingham."
The fact that Buckingham stood within a pace of us and was an interested listener appeared not to temper her expressions in the slightest.
"Buckingham is a pig," she continued. "He is a coward. He came upon Wettin from behind and ran his spear through him. He will not be king for long. Some one will make a face at him, and he will run away and jump into the river."
The people began to titter and clap their hands. Buckingham became red in the face. It was evident that he was far from popular.
"If he dared," went on the old lady, "he would kill me now, but he does not dare. He is too great a coward. If I could help you I should gladly do so. But I am only queen—the vehicle that has helped carry down, unsullied, the royal blood from the days when Grabritin was a mighty country."