Part 6 out of 6
its only tenants, and they are here already. Zaemon's will in the
matter is not to be twisted by you or by me. He has a message to
be delivered to the Gods, and (if I know him at all), he grudges
every minute that is lost in carrying it to them."
I left her then, and went out again up the stair, and stood
once more on the roof of the Ark. On the Mountain top men still
ran about distracted, but gradually they were coming to where the
Ark rested on the highest point. For the moment, however, I passed
them lightly. The drowning of the great continent that had been
spread out below filled the eye. Ocean roared in upon it with
still more furious waves. The plains and the level lands were
foaming lakes. The great city of Atlantis had vanished eternally.
The mountains alone kept their heads above the flood, and spewed
out rocks, and steam, and boiling stone, or burst when the waters
reached them and created great whirlpools of surging sea, and
twisted trees, and bubbling mud.
In the space of a few breaths every living creature that dwelt
in the lower grounds had been smothered by the waters, save for a
few who huddled in a pair of galleys that were driven oarless
inland, over what had once been black forest and hunting land for
the beasts. And even as I watched, these also were swallowed up by
the horrid turmoil of sea, and nothing but the sea beasts, and
those of the greater lizards which can live in such outrageous
waters, could have survived even that state of the destruction.
Indeed, none but those men who had now found standing-ground on the
upper slopes of the Sacred Mountain survived, and it was plain that
their span was short, for the great mass of the continent sank
deeper and more deep every minute before our aching eyes, beneath
the boiling inrush of the seas.
But though the great mass of the soldiery were dazed and
maddened at the prospect of the overwhelming which threatened them,
there were some with a strength of mind too valiant to give any
outward show of discomposure. Presently a compact little body of
people came from out the houses and the temples, and headed
directly across the open ground towards the Ark. On the outside
marched Phorenice's personal guards with their weapons new blooded.
They had been forced to fight a way through their own fellow
soldiers. The poor demented creatures had thought it was every one
for himself now, till these guards (by their mistress's order)
proved to them that Phorenice still came first.
And in the middle of them, borne in a litter of gold and ivory
by her grotesque European slaves, rode the Empress, still calm,
still lovely, and seemingly divided in her sentiments between
contempt and amusement. Her two children lay in the litter at her
feet. On her right hand marched Tatho gorgeously apparelled, and
with a beard curled and plaited into a thousand ringlets. On the
other side, plying her industry with unruffled defence, walked
Ylga, once again fan-girl, and so still second lady in this
The party of them halted half a score of paces from the Ark by
Phorenice's order. "Do not go nearer to those unclean old men.
They carry a rank odour with them, and for the moment we are short
of essences to sweeten the air of their neighbourhood." She lifted
her eyebrows and looked up at me. "Truly a quiet little gathering
of old acquaintances. Why, there is Deucalion, that once I took
the flavour of and threw aside when he cloyed me."
"I have Nais here," I said, "and presently we two will be all
that are left alive of this nation."
"Nais is quite welcome to my leavings," she laughed. "I will
look down upon your country cooings when presently I go back to the
Place behind the stars from which I came. You are a very rustic
person, Deucalion. They tell me too that three or four of these
smelling old men up here have named you King. Did you swell much
with dignity? Or did you remember that there was a pretty Empress
left that would still be Empress so long as there was an Atlantis
to govern? Come, sir, find your tongue. By my face! you must have
hungered for me very madly these years we have been parted, if
new-grown ruggedness of feature is an evidence."
"Have your gibe. I do not gibe back at a woman who presently
"Bah! Deucalion, you will live behind the times. Have they
not told you that I know the Great Secret and am indeed a Goddess
now? My arts can make life run on eternally."
"Then the waters will presently test them hard," I said, but
there the talk was taken into other lips. Zaemon went forward to
the front of the litter with the Symbol of our Lord the Sun glowing
in his hand, and burst into a flow of cursing. It was hard for me
to hear his words. The roar of the waters which poured up over the
land, and beat in vast waves against the Sacred Mountain itself,
grew nearer and more loud. But the old man had his say.
Phorenice gave orders to her guards for his killing; yes,
tried even to rise from the litter and do the work herself; but
Zaemon held the Symbol to his front, and its power in that supreme
moment mastered all the arts that could be brought against it. The
majesty of the most High Gods was vindicated, and that splendid
Empress knew it and lay back sullenly amongst the cushions of her
litter, a beaten woman.
Only one person in that rigid knot of people found power to leave
the rest, and that was Ylga. She came out to the side of the
Ark, and leaned up, and cried me a farewell through the gathering
roar of the flood.
"I would I might save you and take you with us," I said.
"As for that," she said, with a gesture, "I would not come if
you asked me. I am not a woman that will take anything less than
all. But I shall meet what comes presently with the memory that
you will have me always somewhere in your recollection. I know
somewhat of men, even men of your stamp, Deucalion, and you will
never forget that you came very near to loving me once."
I think, too, she said something further, concerning Nais, but
the bellowing rush of the waters drowned all other words. A great
mist made from the stream sent up by the swamped burning mountains
stopped all accurate view, though the blaze from the fires lit it
like gold. But I had a last sight of a horde of soldiery rushing
up the slopes of the Mountain, with a scum of surge billowing at
their heels, and licking many of them back in its clutch. And then
my eye fell on old Zaemon waving to me with the Symbol to shut down
the door in the roof of the Ark.
I obeyed his last command, and went down the stair, and closed
all ingress behind me. There were bolts placed ready, and I shot
these into their sockets, and there were Nais and I alone, and cut
off from all the rest of our world that remained.
I went to the place where she lay, and put my arms tightly
around her. Without, we heard men beating desperately on the Ark
with their weapons, and some even climbed by the battens to the top
and wrenched to try and move the door from its fastenings. The end
was coming very nearly to them now, and the great crowd of them
were mad with terror.
I would have given much to have known how Phorenice fared in
that final tumult, and how she faced it. I could see her, with her
lovely face, and her wondrous eyes, and her ruddy hair curling
about her neck, and by all the Gods! I thought more of her at that
last moment than of the poor land she had conquered, and
misgoverned, and brought to this horrid destruction. There is no
denying the fascination which Phorenice carried with her.
But the end did not dally long with its coming. There was a
little surge that lifted the Ark a hand's breadth or so in its
cradle, and set it back again with a jar and a quiver. The blows
from axes and weapons ceased on its lower part, but redoubled into
frenzied batterings on its rounded roof. There were some screams
and cries also which came to us but dully through the thickness of
its ponderous sheathing, though likely enough they were sent forth
at the full pitch of human lungs outside. And when another surge
came, roaring and thundering, which picked up the great vessel as
though it had been a feather, and spun it giddily; and after that
we touched earth or rock no more.
We tossed about on the crest and troughs of delirious seas, a
sport for the greedy Gods of the ocean. The lamp had fallen, and
we crouched there in darkness, dully weighed with the burden of
knowledge that we alone were saved out of what was yesterday a
20. ON THE BOSOM OF THE DEEP
The Ark was rudderless, oarless, and machineless, and could
travel only where the High Gods chose. The inside was dark, and
full of an ancient smell, and crowded with groanings and noise. I
could not find the fire-box to relight the fallen lamp, and so we
had to endure blindly what was dealt out to us. The waves tossed
us in merciless sport, and I clung on by the side of Nais, holding
her to the bed. We did not speak much, but there was full
companionship in our bereavement and our silence.
When Atlantis sank to form new ocean bed, she left great
whirlpools and spoutings from her drowned fires as a fleeting
legacy to the Gods of the Sea. And then, I think (though in the
black belly of the Ark we could not see these things), a vast
hurricane of wind must have come on next so as to leave no piece
of the desolation incomplete. For seven nights and seven days did
this dreadful turmoil continue, as counted for us afterwards by the
reckoner of hours which hung within the Ark, and then the howling
of the wind departed, and only the roll of a long still swell
remained. It was regular and it was oily, as I could tell by the
difference of the motion, and then for the first time I dared to go
up the stair, and open the door which stood in the roof of the Ark.
The sweet air came gushing down to freshen the foulness within,
and as the Ark rode dryly over the seas, I went below and brought
up Nais to gain refreshment from the curing rays of our Lord the
Sun. Duly the pair of us adored Him, and gave thanks for His
great mercy in coming to light another day, and then we laid
ourselves down where we were to doze, and take that easy rest which
we so urgently needed.
Yet, though I was tired beyond words, for long enough sleep
would not visit me. Wearily I stared out over the oily sunlit
waters. No blur of land met the eye. The ring of ocean was
unbroken on every side, and overhead the vault of heaven remained
unchanged. The bosom of the deep was littered with the poor
wreckage of Atlantis, to remind one, if there had been a need, that
what had come about was fact, and not some horrid dream. Trees,
squared timber, a smashed and upturned boat of hides, and here and
there the rounded corpse of a man or beast shouldered over the
swells, and kept convoy with our Ark as she drifted on in charge of
the Gods and the current.
But sleep came to me at last, and I dropped off into
unconsciousness, holding the hand of Nais in mine, and when next I
woke, I found her open-eyed also and watching me tenderly. We were
finely rested, both of us, and rest and strength bring one
complacency. We were more ready now to accept the station which
the High Gods had made for us without repining, and so we went
below again into the belly of the Ark to eat and drink and maintain
strength for the new life which lay before us.
A wonderful vessel was this Ark, now we were able to see it at
leisure and intimately. Although for the first time now in all its
centuries of life it swam upon the waters, it showed no leak or
suncrack. Inside, even its floor was bone dry. That it was built
from some wood, one could see by the grainings, but nowhere could
one find suture or joint. The living timbers had been put in place
and then grown together by an art which we have lost to-day, but
which the Ancients knew with much perfection; and afterwards some
treatment, which is also a secret of those forgotten builders, had
made the wood as hard as metal and impervious to all attacks of the
In the gloomy cave of its belly were stored many matters. At
one end, in great tanks on either side of central alley, was a
prodigious store of grain. Sweet water was in other tanks at the
other end. In another place were drugs and samples, and essences
of the life of beasts; all these things being for use whilst the
Ark roamed under the guidance of the Gods on the bosom of the deep.
On all the walls of the Ark, and on all the partitions of the tanks
and the other woodwork, there were carved in the rude art of bygone
time representations of all the beasts which lived in Atlantis; and
on these I looked with a hunter's interest, as some of them were
strange to me, and had died out with the men who had perpetuated
them in these sculptures. There was a good store of weapons too
and the tools for handicrafts.
Now, for many weeks, our life endured in this Ark as the Gods
drove it about here and there across the face of the waters. We
had no government over direction; we could not by so much as a
hair's breadth a day increase her speed. The High Gods that had
chosen the two of us to be the only ones saved out of all Atlantis,
had sole control of our fate, and into Their hands we cheerfully
resigned our future direction.
Of that land which we reached in due time, and where we made
our abiding place, and where our children were born, I shall tell
of in its place; but since this chronicle has proceeded so far in
an exact order of the events as they came to pass, it is necessary
first to narrate how we came by the sheets on which it is written.
In a great coffer, in the centre of the Ark's floor, the whole
of the Mysteries learned during the study of ages were set down in
accurate writing. I read through some of them during the days
which passed, and the awfulness of the Powers over which they gave
control appalled me. I had seen some of these Powers set loose in
Atlantis, and was a witness of her destruction. But here were
Powers far higher than those; here was the great Secret of Life and
Death which Phorenice also had found, and for which she had been
destroyed; and there were other things also of which I cannot even
bring my stylo to scribe.
The thought of being custodian of these writings was more than
I could endure, and the more the matter rested in my mind, the more
intolerable became the burden. And at last I took hot irons, and
with them seared the wax on the sheets till every letter of the old
writings was obliterated. If I did wrong, the High Gods in Their
infinite justice will give me punishment; if it is well that these
great secrets should endure on earth, They in their infinite power
will dictate them afresh to some fitting scribes; but I destroyed
them there as the Ark swayed with us over the waves; and later,
when we came to land, I rewrote upon the sheets the matters which
led to great Atlantis being dragged to her death-throes.
Nais, that I love so tenderly--
[TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: The remaining sheets are too broken
to be legible.]