Part 1 out of 7
This etext was produced by Judy Boss.
THE METAL MONSTER
Before the narrative which follows was placed in my
hands, I had never seen Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, its author.
When the manuscript revealing his adventures among
the pre-historic ruins of the Nan-Matal in the Carolines
(The Moon Pool) had been given me by the International
Association of Science for editing and revision to meet the
requirements of a popular presentation, Dr. Goodwin had
left America. He had explained that he was still too shaken,
too depressed, to be able to recall experiences that must
inevitably carry with them freshened memories of those
whom he loved so well and from whom, he felt, he was
separated in all probability forever.
I had understood that he had gone to some remote part
of Asia to pursue certain botanical studies, and it was therefore
with the liveliest surprise and interest that I received
a summons from the President of the Association to meet
Dr. Goodwin at a designated place and hour.
Through my close study of the Moon Pool papers I had
formed a mental image of their writer. I had read, too,
those volumes of botanical research which have set him
high above all other American scientists in this field, gleaning
from their curious mingling of extremely technical observations
and minutely accurate but extraordinarily poetic
descriptions, hints to amplify my picture of him. It gratified
me to find I had drawn a pretty good one.
The man to whom the President of the Association introduced
me was sturdy, well-knit, a little under average height.
He had a broad but rather low forehead that reminded me
somewhat of the late electrical wizard Steinmetz. Under
level black brows shone eyes of clear hazel, kindly, shrewd,
a little wistful, lightly humorous; the eyes both of a doer
and a dreamer.
Not more than forty I judged him to be. A close-trimmed,
pointed beard did not hide the firm chin and the clean-cut
mouth. His hair was thick and black and oddly sprinkled
with white; small streaks and dots of gleaming silver that
shone with a curiously metallic luster.
His right arm was closely bound to his breast. His manner
as he greeted me was tinged with shyness. He extended
his left hand in greeting, and as I clasped the fingers I was
struck by their peculiar, pronounced, yet pleasant warmth;
a sensation, indeed, curiously electric.
The Association's President forced him gently back into
"Dr. Goodwin," he said, turning to me, "is not entirely
recovered as yet from certain consequences of his adventures.
He will explain to you later what these are. In the
meantime, Mr. Merritt, will you read this?"
I took the sheets he handed me, and as I read them felt
the gaze of Dr. Goodwin full upon me, searching, weighing,
estimating. When I raised my eyes from the letter I found
in his a new expression. The shyness was gone; they were
filled with complete friendliness. Evidently I had passed
"You will accept, sir?" It was the president's gravely
"Accept!" I exclaimed. "Why, of course, I accept. It is
not only one of the greatest honors, but to me one of the
greatest delights to act as a collaborator with Dr. Goodwin."
The president smiled.
"In that case, sir, there is no need for me to remain
longer," he said. "Dr. Goodwin has with him his manuscript
as far as he has progressed with it. I will leave you
two alone for your discussion."
He bowed to us and, picking up his old-fashioned bell-crowned
silk hat and his quaint, heavy cane of ebony, withdrew.
Dr. Goodwin turned to me.
"I will start," he said, after a little pause, "from when I
met Richard Drake on the field of blue poppies that are
like a great prayer-rug at the gray feet of the nameless
The sun sank, the shadows fell, the lights of the city
sparkled out, for hours New York roared about me unheeded
while I listened to the tale of that utterly weird,
stupendous drama of an unknown life, of unknown creatures,
unknown forces, and of unconquerable human heroism
played among the hidden gorges of unknown Asia.
It was dawn when I left him for my own home. Nor was
it for many hours after that I laid his then incomplete manuscript
down and sought sleep--and found a troubled sleep.
VALLEY OF THE
In this great crucible of life we call the world--in the
vaster one we call the universe--the mysteries lie close
packed, uncountable as grains of sand on ocean's shores.
They thread gigantic, the star-flung spaces; they creep,
atomic, beneath the microscope's peering eye. They walk
beside us, unseen and unheard, calling out to us, asking
why we are deaf to their crying, blind to their wonder.
Sometimes the veils drop from a man's eyes, and he sees
--and speaks of his vision. Then those who have not seen
pass him by with the lifted brows of disbelief, or they
mock him, or if his vision has been great enough they
fall upon and destroy him.
For the greater the mystery, the more bitterly is its
verity assailed; upon what seem the lesser a man may give
testimony and at least gain for himself a hearing.
There is reason for this. Life is a ferment, and upon and
about it, shifting and changing, adding to or taking away,
beat over legions of forces, seen and unseen, known and
unknown. And man, an atom in the ferment, clings desperately
to what to him seems stable; nor greets with joy
him who hazards that what he grips may be but a broken
staff, and, so saying, fails to hold forth a sturdier one.
Earth is a ship, plowing her way through uncharted
oceans of space wherein are strange currents, hidden
shoals and reefs, and where blow the unknown winds of
If to the voyagers, painfully plotting their course, comes
one who cries that their charts must be remade, nor can
tell WHY they must be--that man is not welcome--no!
Therefore it is that men have grown chary of giving testimony
upon mysteries. Yet knowing each in his own heart
the truth of that vision he has himself beheld, lo, it is
that in whose reality he most believes.
The spot where I had encamped was of a singular
beauty; so beautiful that it caught the throat and set an
ache within the breast--until from it a tranquillity distilled
that was like healing mist.
Since early March I had been wandering. It was now
mid-July. And for the first time since my pilgrimage had
begun I drank--not of forgetfulness, for that could never
be--but of anodyne for a sorrow which had held fast
upon me since my return from the Carolines a year before.
No need to dwell here upon that--it has been written.
Nor shall I recite the reasons for my restlessness--for
these are known to those who have read that history of
mine. Nor is there cause to set forth at length the steps
by which I had arrived at this vale of peace.
Sufficient is to tell that in New York one night, reading
over what is perhaps the most sensational of my books--
"The Poppies and Primulas of Southern Tibet," the result
of my travels of 1910-1911, I determined to return to that
quiet, forbidden land. There, if anywhere, might I find
something akin to forgetting.
There was a certain flower which I long had wished to
study in its mutations from the singular forms appearing
on the southern slopes of the Elburz--Persia's mountainous
chain that extends from Azerbaijan in the west to
Khorasan in the east; from thence I would follow its
modified types in the Hindu-Kush ranges and its migrations
along the southern scarps of the Trans-Himalayas--
the unexplored upheaval, higher than the Himalayas themselves,
more deeply cut with precipice and gorge, which Sven Hedin
had touched and named on his journey to Lhasa.
Having accomplished this, I planned to push across the
passes to the Manasarowar Lakes, where, legend has it,
the strange, luminous purple lotuses grow.
An ambitious project, undeniably fraught with danger;
but it is written that desperate diseases require desperate
remedies, and until inspiration or message how to rejoin
those whom I had loved so dearly came to me, nothing
less, I felt, could dull my heartache.
And, frankly, feeling that no such inspiration or message
could come, I did not much care as to the end.
In Teheran I had picked up a most unusual servant; yes,
more than this, a companion and counselor and interpreter
He was a Chinese; his name Chiu-Ming. His first thirty
years had been spent at the great Lamasery of Palkhor-Choinde
at Gyantse, west of Lhasa. Why he had gone
from there, how he had come to Teheran, I never asked.
It was most fortunate that he had gone, and that I had
found him. He recommended himself to me as the best
cook within ten thousand miles of Pekin.
For almost three months we had journeyed; Chiu-Ming
and I and the two ponies that carried my impedimenta.
We had traversed mountain roads which had echoed to
the marching feet of the hosts of Darius, to the hordes of
the Satraps. The highways of the Achaemenids--yes, and
which before them had trembled to the tramplings of the
myriads of the godlike Dravidian conquerors.
We had slipped over ancient Iranian trails; over paths
which the warriors of conquering Alexander had traversed;
dust of bones of Macedons, of Greeks, of Romans, beat
about us; ashes of the flaming ambitions of the Sassanidae
whimpered beneath our feet--the feet of an American
botanist, a Chinaman, two Tibetan ponies. We had crept
through clefts whose walls had sent back the howlings of
the Ephthalites, the White Huns who had sapped the
strength of these same proud Sassanids until at last both
fell before the Turks.
Over the highways and byways of Persia's glory, Persia's
shame and Persia's death we four--two men, two beasts
--had passed. For a fortnight we had met no human soul,
seen no sign of human habitation.
Game had been plentiful--green things Chiu-Ming
might lack for his cooking, but meat never. About us was
a welter of mighty summits. We were, I knew, somewhere
within the blending of the Hindu-Kush with the Trans-Himalayas.
That morning we had come out of a ragged defile into
this valley of enchantment, and here, though it had been
so early, I had pitched my tent, determining to go no
farther till the morrow.
It was a Phocean vale; a gigantic cup filled with tranquillity.
A spirit brooded over it, serene, majestic, immutable--like
the untroubled calm which rests, the Burmese believe, over
every place which has guarded the Buddha, sleeping.
At its eastern end towered the colossal scarp of the
unnamed peak through one of whose gorges we had crept.
On his head was a cap of silver set with pale emeralds--the
snow fields and glaciers that crowned him. Far to the west
another gray and ochreous giant reared its bulk, closing the
vale. North and south, the horizon was a chaotic sky land
of pinnacles, spired and minareted, steepled and turreted
and domed, each diademed with its green and argent of
eternal ice and snow.
And all the valley was carpeted with the blue poppies
in wide, unbroken fields, luminous as the morning skies of
mid-June; they rippled mile after mile over the path we
had followed, over the still untrodden path which we must
take. They nodded, they leaned toward each other, they
seemed to whisper--then to lift their heads and look up
like crowding swarms of little azure fays, half impudently,
wholly trustfully, into the faces of the jeweled giants
standing guard over them. And when the little breeze
walked upon them it was as though they bent beneath the
soft tread and were brushed by the sweeping skirts of
unseen, hastening Presences.
Like a vast prayer-rug, sapphire and silken, the poppies
stretched to the gray feet of the mountain. Between their
southern edge and the clustering summits a row of faded
brown, low hills knelt--like brown-robed, withered and
weary old men, backs bent, faces hidden between outstretched
arms, palms to the earth and brows touching
earth within them--in the East's immemorial attitude of
I half expected them to rise--and as I watched a man
appeared on one of the bowed, rocky shoulders, abruptly,
with the ever-startling suddenness which in the strange
light of these latitudes objects spring into vision. As he
stood scanning my camp there arose beside him a laden
pony, and at its head a Tibetan peasant. The first figure
waved its hand; came striding down the hill.
As he approached I took stock of him. A young giant,
three good inches over six feet, a vigorous head with unruly
clustering black hair; a clean-cut, clean-shaven American face.
"I'm Dick Drake," he said, holding out his hand. "Richard
Keen Drake, recently with Uncle's engineers in France."
"My name is Goodwin." I took his hand, shook it
warmly. "Dr. Walter T. Goodwin."
"Goodwin the botanist--? Then I know you!" he exclaimed.
"Know all about you, that is. My father admired
your work greatly. You knew him--Professor Alvin
I nodded. So he was Alvin Drake's son. Alvin, I knew,
had died about a year before I had started on this journey.
But what was his son doing in this wilderness?
"Wondering where I came from?" he answered my unspoken
question. "Short story. War ended. Felt an irresistible
desire for something different. Couldn't think of
anything more different from Tibet--always wanted to go
there anyway. Went. Decided to strike over toward Turkestan.
And here I am."
I felt at once a strong liking for this young giant. No
doubt, subconsciously, I had been feeling the need of
companionship with my own kind. I even wondered, as I
led the way into my little camp, whether he would care to
join fortunes with me in my journeyings.
His father's work I knew well, and although this stalwart
lad was unlike what one would have expected Alvin
Drake--a trifle dried, precise, wholly abstracted with his
experiments--to beget, still, I reflected, heredity like the
Lord sometimes works in mysterious ways its wonders to
It was almost with awe that he listened to me instruct
Chiu-Ming as to just how I wanted supper prepared, and
his gaze dwelt fondly upon the Chinese busy among his
pots and pans.
We talked a little, desultorily, as the meal was prepared
--fragments of traveler's news and gossip, as is the
habit of journeyers who come upon each other in the silent
places. Ever the speculation grew in his face as he made
away with Chiu-Ming's artful concoctions.
Drake sighed, drawing out his pipe.
"A cook, a marvel of a cook. Where did you get him?"
Briefly I told him.
Then a silence fell upon us. Suddenly the sun dipped
down behind the flank of the stone giant guarding the
valley's western gate; the whole vale swiftly darkened--a
flood of crystal-clear shadows poured within it. It was the
prelude to that miracle of unearthly beauty seen nowhere
else on this earth--the sunset of Tibet.
We turned expectant eyes to the west. A little, cool
breeze raced down from the watching steeps like a messenger,
whispered to the nodding poppies, sighed and was
gone. The poppies were still. High overhead a homing kite
As if it were a signal there sprang out in the pale azure
of the western sky row upon row of cirrus cloudlets, rank
upon rank of them, thrusting their heads into the path of
the setting sun. They changed from mottled silver into
faint rose, deepened to crimson.
"The dragons of the sky drink the blood of the sunset,"
As though a gigantic globe of crystal had dropped upon
the heavens, their blue turned swiftly to a clear and glowing
amber--then as abruptly shifted to a luminous violet
A soft green light pulsed through the valley.
Under it, like hills ensorcelled, the rocky walls about it
seemed to flatten. They glowed and all at once pressed
forward like gigantic slices of palest emerald jade, translucent,
illumined, as though by a circlet of little suns shining
The light faded, robes of deepest amethyst dropped
around the mountain's mighty shoulders. And then from
every snow and glacier-crowned peak, from minaret and
pinnacle and towering turret, leaped forth a confusion of
soft peacock flames, a host of irised prismatic gleamings,
an ordered chaos of rainbows.
Great and small, interlacing and shifting, they ringed
the valley with an incredible glory--as if some god of
light itself had touched the eternal rocks and bidden radiant
souls stand forth.
Through the darkening sky swept a rosy pencil of living
light; that utterly strange, pure beam whose coming never
fails to clutch the throat of the beholder with the hand of
ecstasy, the ray which the Tibetans name the Ting-Pa.
For a moment this rosy finger pointed to the east, then
arched itself, divided slowly into six shining, rosy bands;
began to creep downward toward the eastern horizon where
a nebulous, pulsing splendor arose to meet it.
And as we watched I heard a gasp from Drake. And it
was echoed by my own.
For the six beams were swaying, moving with ever
swifter motion from side to side in ever-widening sweep,
as though the hidden orb from which they sprang were
swaying like a pendulum.
Faster and faster the six high-flung beams swayed--and
then broke--broke as though a gigantic, unseen hand had
reached up and snapped them!
An instant the severed ends ribboned aimlessly, then
bent, turned down and darted earthward into the welter of
clustered summits at the north and swiftly were gone,
while down upon the valley fell night.
"Good God!" whispered Drake. "It was as though something
reached up, broke those rays and drew them down--
"I saw it." I struggled with bewilderment. "I saw it. But
I never saw anything like it before," I ended, most inadequately.
"It was PURPOSEFUL," he whispered. "It was DELIBERATE.
As though something reached up, juggled with the rays,
broke them, and drew them down like willow withes."
"The devils that dwell here!" quavered Chiu-Ming.
"Some magnetic phenomenon." I was half angry at myself
for my own touch of panic. "Light can be deflected
by passage through a magnetic field. Of course that's it.
"I don't know." Drake's tone was doubtful indeed. "It
would take a whale of a magnetic field to have done THAT
--it's inconceivable." He harked back to his first idea. "It
was so--so DAMNED deliberate," he repeated.
"Devils--" muttered the frightened Chinese.
"What's that?" Drake gripped my arm and pointed to
the north. A deeper blackness had grown there while we
had been talking, a pool of darkness against which the
mountain summits stood out, blade-sharp edges faintly
A gigantic lance of misty green fire darted from the
blackness and thrust its point into the heart of the zenith;
following it, leaped into the sky a host of the sparkling
spears of light, and now the blackness was like an ebon
hand, brandishing a thousand javelins of tinseled flame.
"The aurora," I said.
"It ought to be a good one," mused Drake, gaze intent
upon it. "Did you notice the big sun spot?"
I shook my head.
"The biggest I ever saw. Noticed it first at dawn this
morning. Some little aurora lighter--that spot. I told you
--look at that!" he cried.
The green lances had fallen back. The blackness gathered
itself together--then from it began to pulse billows of
radiance, spangled with infinite darting swarms of flashing
corpuscles like uncounted hosts of dancing fireflies.
Higher the waves rolled--phosphorescent green and iridescent
violet, weird copperous yellows and metallic saffrons
and a shimmer of glittering ash of rose--then
wavered, split and formed into gigantic, sparkling, marching
curtains of splendor.
A vast circle of light sprang out upon the folds of the
flickering, rushing curtains. Misty at first, its edges sharpened
until they rested upon the blazing glory of the northern
sky like a pale ring of cold flame. And about it the
aurora began to churn, to heap itself, to revolve.
Toward the ring from every side raced the majestic
folds, drew themselves together, circled, seethed around it
like foam of fire about the lip of a cauldron, and poured
through the shining circle as though it were the mouth of
that fabled cavern where old Aeolus sits blowing forth
and breathing back the winds that sweep the earth.
Yes--into the ring's mouth the aurora flew, cascading
in a columned stream to earth. Then swiftly, a mist swept
over all the heavens, veiled that incredible cataract.
"Magnetism?" muttered Drake. "I guess NOT!"
"It struck about where the Ting-Pa was broken and
seemed drawn down like the rays," I said.
"Purposeful," Drake said. "And devilish. It hit on all
my nerves like a--like a metal claw. Purposeful and
deliberate. There was intelligence behind that."
"Intelligence? Drake--what intelligence could break the
rays of the setting sun and suck down the aurora?"
"I don't know," he answered.
"Devils," croaked Chiu-Ming. "The devils that defied
Buddha--and have grown strong--"
"Like a metal claw!" breathed Drake.
Far to the west a sound came to us; first a whisper,
then a wild rushing, a prolonged wailing, a crackling. A
great light flashed through the mist, glowed about us and
faded. Again the wailing, the vast rushing, the retreating
Then silence and darkness dropped embraced upon the
valley of the blue poppies.
ON THE ROCKS
Dawn came. Drake had slept well. But I, who had not
his youthful resiliency, lay for long, awake and uneasy.
I had hardly sunk into troubled slumber before dawn
As we breakfasted, I approached directly that matter
which my growing liking for him was turning into strong
"Drake," I asked. "Where are you going?"
"With you," he laughed. "I'm foot loose and fancy free.
And I think you ought to have somebody with you to help
watch that cook. He might get away."
The idea seemed to appall him.
"Fine!" I exclaimed heartily, and thrust out my hand to
him. "I'm thinking of striking over the range soon to the
Manasarowar Lakes. There's a curious flora I'd like to
"Anywhere you say suits me," he answered.
We clasped hands on our partnership and soon we were
on our way to the valley's western gate; our united caravans
stringing along behind us. Mile after mile we trudged
through the blue poppies, discussing the enigmas of the
twilight and of the night.
In the light of day their breath of vague terror was
dissipated. There was no place for mystery nor dread
under this floor of brilliant sunshine. The smiling sapphire
floor rolled ever on before us.
Whispering little playful breezes flew down the slopes
to gossip for a moment with the nodding flowers. Flocks
of rose finches raced chattering overhead to quarrel with
the tiny willow warblers, the chi-u-teb-tok, holding fief of
the drooping, graceful bowers bending down to the little
laughing stream that for the past hour had chuckled and
gurgled like a friendly water baby beside us.
I had proven, almost to my own satisfaction, that what
we had beheld had been a creation of the extraordinary
atmospheric attributes of these highlands, an atmosphere
so unique as to make almost anything of the kind possible.
But Drake was not convinced.
"I know," he said. "Of course I understand all that--
superimposed layers of warmer air that might have bent
the ray; vortices in the higher levels that might have
produced just that effect of the captured aurora. I admit
it's all possible. I'll even admit it's all probable, but damn
me, Doc, if I BELIEVE it! I had too clearly the feeling of a
CONSCIOUS force, a something that KNEW exactly what it
was doing--and had a REASON for it."
It was mid-afternoon.
The spell of the valley upon us, we had gone leisurely.
The western mount was close, the mouth of the gorge
through which we must pass, now plain before us. It did
not seem as though we could reach it before dusk, and
Drake and I were reconciled to spending another night in
the peaceful vale. Plodding along, deep in thought, I was
startled by his exclamation.
He was staring at a point some hundred yards to his
right. I followed his gaze.
The towering cliffs were a scant half mile away. At some
distant time there had been an enormous fall of rock.
This, disintegrating, had formed a gently-curving breast
which sloped down to merge with the valley's floor. Willow
and witch alder, stunted birch and poplar had found
roothold, clothed it, until only their crowding outposts,
thrusting forward in a wavering semicircle, held back
seemingly by the blue hordes, showed where it melted into
In the center of this breast, beginning half way up its
slopes and stretching down into the flowered fields was a
Gray and brown, it stood out against the green and
blue of slope and level; a rectangle all of thirty feet wide,
two hundred long, the heel faintly curved and from its
hither end, like claws, four slender triangles radiating from
it like twenty-four points of a ten-rayed star.
Irresistibly was it like a footprint--but what thing was
there whose tread could leave such a print as this?
I ran up the slope--Drake already well in advance. I
paused at the base of the triangles where, were this thing
indeed a footprint, the spreading claws sprang from the
flat of it.
The track was fresh. At its upper edges were clipped
bushes and split trees, the white wood of the latter showing
where they had been sliced as though by the stroke of a
I stepped out upon the mark. It was as level as though
planed; bent down and stared in utter disbelief of what
my own eyes beheld. For stone and earth had been
crushed, compressed, into a smooth, microscopically
grained, adamantine complex, and in this matrix poppies
still bearing traces of their coloring were imbedded like
fossils. A cyclone can and does grip straws and thrust
them unbroken through an inch board--but what force
was there which could take the delicate petals of a flower
and set them like inlay within the surface of a stone?
Into my mind came recollection of the wailings, the
crashings in the night, of the weird glow that had flashed
about us when the mist arose to hide the chained aurora.
"It was what we heard," I said. "The sounds--it was
then that this was made."
"The foot of Shin-je!" Chiu-Ming's voice was tremulous.
"The lord of Hell has trodden here!"
I translated for Drake's benefit.
"Has the lord of Hell but one foot?" asked Dick, politely.
"He bestrides the mountains," said Chiu-Ming. "On the
far side is his other footprint. Shin-je it was who strode
the mountains and set here his foot."
Again I interpreted.
Drake cast a calculating glance up to the cliff top.
"Two thousand feet, about," he mused. "Well, if Shin-je
is built in our proportions that makes it about right. The
length of this thing would give him just about a two
thousand foot leg. Yes--he could just about straddle that
"You're surely not serious?" I asked in consternation.
"What the hell!" he exclaimed, "am I crazy? This is
no foot mark. How could it be? Look at the mathematical
nicety with which these edges are stamped out--as though
by a die--
"That's what it reminds me of--a die. It's as if some
impossible power had been used to press it down. Like--
like a giant seal of metal in a mountain's hand. A sigil--
"But why?" I asked. "What could be the purpose--"
"Better ask where the devil such a force could be gotten
together and how it came here," he said. "Look--except
for this one place there isn't a mark anywhere. All the
bushes and the trees, all the poppies and the grass are just
as they ought to be.
"How did whoever or whatever it was that made this,
get here and get away without leaving any trace but this?
Damned if I don't think Chiu-Ming's explanation puts
less strain upon the credulity than any I could offer."
I peered about. It was so. Except for the mark, there was
no slightest sign of the unusual, the abnormal.
But the mark was enough!
"I'm for pushing up a notch or two and getting into the
gorge before dark," he was voicing my own thought. "I'm
willing to face anything human--but I'm not keen to be
pressed into a rock like a flower in a maiden's book of
Just at twilight we drew out of the valley into the pass.
We traveled a full mile along it before darkness forced us
to make camp. The gorge was narrow. The far walls but
a hundred feet away; but we had no quarrel with them
for their neighborliness, no! Their solidity, their immutability,
breathed confidence back into us.
And after we had found a deep niche capable of holding
the entire caravan we filed within, ponies and all, I for one
perfectly willing thus to spend the night, let the air at
dawn be what it would. We dined within on bread and
tea, and then, tired to the bone, sought each his place upon
the rocky floor. I slept well, waking only once or twice
by Chiu-Ming's groanings; his dreams evidently were none
of the pleasantest. If there was an aurora I neither knew
nor cared. My slumber was dreamless.
The dawn, streaming into the niche, awakened us.
A covey of partridges venturing too close yielded three to
our guns. We breakfasted well, and a little later were
pushing on down the cleft.
Its descent, though gradual, was continuous, and therefore
I was not surprised when soon we began to come
upon evidences of semi-tropical vegetation. Giant rhododendrons
and tree ferns gave way to occasional clumps
of stately kopek and clumps of the hardier bamboos. We
added a few snow cocks to our larder--although they were
out of their habitat, flying down into the gorge from their
peaks and table-lands for some choice tidbit.
All that day we marched on, and when at night we
made camp, sleep came to us quickly and overmastering.
An hour after dawn we were on our way. A brief stop we
made for lunch; pressed forward.
It was close to two when we caught the first sight of the
The soaring, verdure-clad walls of the canyon had long
been steadily marching closer. Above, between their rims
the wide ribbon of sky was like a fantastically shored
river, shimmering, dazzling; every cove and headland
edged with an opalescent glimmering as of shining pearly
And as though we were sinking in that sky stream's
depths its light kept lessening, darkening imperceptibly
with luminous shadows of ghostly beryl, drifting veils of
pellucid aquamarine, limpid mists of glaucous chrysolite.
Fainter, more crepuscular became the light, yet never
losing its crystalline quality. Now the high overhead river
was but a brook; became a thread. Abruptly it vanished.
We passed into a tunnel, fern walled, fern roofed, garlanded
with tawny orchids, gay with carmine fungus and
golden moss. We stepped out into a blaze of sunlight.
Before us lay a wide green bowl held in the hands of
the clustered hills; shallow, circular, as though, while
plastic still, the thumb of God had run round its rim,
shaping it. Around it the peaks crowded, craning their
lofty heads to peer within.
It was about a mile in its diameter, this hollow, as my
gaze then measured it. It had three openings--one that
lay like a crack in the northeast slope; another, the tunnel
mouth through which we had come. The third lifted itself
out of the bowl, creeping up the precipitous bare scarp of
the western barrier straight to the north, clinging to the
ochreous rock up and up until it vanished around a far
It was a wide and bulwarked road, a road that spoke as
clearly as though it had tongue of human hands which
had cut it there in the mountain's breast. An ancient road
weary beyond belief beneath the tread of uncounted years.
From the hollow the blind soul of loneliness groped out
to greet us!
Never had I felt such loneliness as that which lapped the
lip of the verdant bowl. It was tangible--as though it had
been poured from some reservoir of misery. A pool of
Half the width of the valley away the ruins began.
Weirdly were they its visible expression. They huddled
in two bent rows to the bottom. They crouched in a wide
cluster against the cliffs. From the cluster a curving row
of them ran along the southern crest of the hollow.
A flight of shattered, cyclopean steps lifted to a ledge
and here a crumbling fortress stood.
Irresistibly did the ruins seem a colossal hag, flung
prone, lying listlessly, helplessly, against the barrier's base.
The huddled lower ranks were the legs, the cluster the
body, the upper row an outflung arm and above the neck
of the stairway the ancient fortress, rounded and with two
huge ragged apertures in its northern front was an aged,
bleached and withered head staring, watching.
I looked at Drake--the spell of the bowl was heavy
upon him, his face drawn. The Chinaman and Tibetan
were murmuring, terror written large upon them.
"A hell of a joint!" Drake turned to me, a shadow of a
grin lightening the distress on his face. "But I'd rather
chance it than go back. What d'you say?"
I nodded, curiosity mastering my oppression. We stepped
over the rim, rifles on the alert. Close behind us crowded
the two servants and the ponies.
The vale was shallow, as I have said. We trod the fragments
of an olden approach to the green tunnel so the
descent was not difficult. Here and there beside the path
upreared huge broken blocks. On them I thought I could
see faint tracings as of carvings--now a suggestion of
gaping, arrow-fanged dragon jaws, now the outline of a
scaled body, a hint of enormous, batlike wings.
Now we had reached the first of the crumbling piles
that stretched down into the valley's center.
Half fainting, I fell against Drake, clutching to him for
A stream of utter hopelessness was racing upon us,
swirling and eddying around us, reaching to our hearts
with ghostly fingers dripping with despair. From every
shattered heap it seemed to pour, rushing down the road
upon us like a torrent, engulfing us, submerging, drowning.
Unseen it was--yet tangible as water; it sapped the life
from every nerve. Weariness filled me, a desire to drop
upon the stones, to be rolled away. To die. I felt Drake's
body quivering even as mine; knew that he was drawing
upon every reserve of strength.
"Steady," he muttered. "Steady--"
The Tibetan shrieked and fled, the ponies scrambling
after him. Dimly I remembered that mine carried precious
specimens; a surge of anger passed, beating back the anguish.
I heard a sob from Chiu-Ming, saw him drop.
Drake stopped, drew him to his feet. We placed him
between us, thrust each an arm through his own. Then,
like swimmers, heads bent, we pushed on, buffeting that
inexplicable invisible flood.
As the path rose, its force lessened, my vitality grew,
and the terrible desire to yield and be swept away waned.
Now we had reached the foot of the cyclopean stairs, now
we were half up them--and now as we struggled out upon
the ledge on which the watching fortress stood, the clutching
stream shoaled swiftly, the shoal became safe, dry
land and the cheated, unseen maelstrom swirled harmlessly
We stood erect, gasping for breath, again like swimmers
who have fought their utmost and barely, so barely, won.
There was an almost imperceptible movement at the
side of the ruined portal.
Out darted a girl. A rifle dropped from her hands.
Straight she sped toward me.
And as she ran I recognized her.
The flying figure reached me, threw soft arms around
my neck, was weeping in relieved gladness on my shoulder.
"Ruth!" I cried. "What on earth are YOU doing here?"
"Walter!" she sobbed. "Walter Goodwin--Oh, thank
God! Thank God!"
She drew herself from my arms, catching her breath;
I took swift stock of her. Save for fear upon her, she
was the same Ruth I had known three years before; wide,
deep blue eyes that were now all seriousness, now sparkling
wells of mischief; petite, rounded and tender; the fairest
skin; an impudent little nose; shining clusters of intractable
curls; all human, sparkling and sweet.
Drake coughed, insinuatingly. I introduced him.
"I--I watched you struggling through that dreadful pit."
She shuddered. "I could not see who you were, did not
know whether friend or enemy--but oh, my heart almost
died in pity for you, Walter," she breathed. "What can it
I shook my head.
"Martin could not see you," she went on. "He was
watching the road that leads above. But I ran down--to
"Mart watching?" I asked. "Watching for what?"
"I--" she hesitated oddly. "I think I'd rather tell you
before him. It's so strange--so incredible."
She led us through the broken portal and into the fortress.
It was more gigantic even than I had thought. The
floor of the vast chamber we had entered was strewn with
fragments fallen from the crackling, stone-vaulted ceiling.
Through the breaks light streamed from the level above us.
We picked our way among the debris to a wide crumbling
stairway, crept up it, Ruth flitting ahead. We came
out opposite one of the eye-like apertures. Black against
it, perched high upon a pile of blocks, I recognized the
long, lean outline of Ventnor, rifle in hand, gazing intently
up the ancient road whose windings were plain
through the opening. He had not heard us.
"Martin," called Ruth softly.
He turned. A shaft of light from a crevice in the gap's
edge struck his face, flashing it out from the semidarkness
of the corner in which he crouched. I looked into the
quiet gray eyes, upon the keen face.
"Goodwin!" he shouted, tumbling down from his perch,
shaking me by the shoulders. "If I had been in the way of
praying--you're the man I'd have prayed for. How did you
"Just wandering, Mart," I answered. "But Lord! I'm
sure GLAD to see you."
"Which way did you come?" he asked, keenly. I threw
my hand toward the south.
"Not through that hollow?" he asked incredulously.
"And some hell of a place to get through," Drake broke
in. "It cost us our ponies and all my ammunition."
"Richard Drake," I said. "Son of old Alvin--you knew
"Knew him well," cried Ventnor, seizing Dick's hand.
"Wanted me to go to Kamchatka to get some confounded
sort of stuff for one of his devilish experiments. Is he
"He's dead," replied Dick soberly.
"Oh!" said Ventnor. "Oh--I'm sorry. He was a great
Briefly I acquainted him with my wanderings, my encounter
"That place out there--" he considered us thoughtfully.
"Damned if I know what it is. Thought maybe it's gas--
of a sort. If it hadn't been for it we'd have been out of this
hole two days ago. I'm pretty sure it must be gas. And it
must be much less than it was this morning, for then we
made an attempt to get through again--and couldn't."
I was hardly listening. Ventnor had certainly advanced
a theory of our unusual symptoms that had not occurred
to me. That hollow might indeed be a pocket into which
a gas flowed; just as in the mines the deadly coal damp
collects in pits, flows like a stream along the passages. It
might be that--some odorless, colorless gas of unknown
qualities; and yet--
"Did you try respirators?" asked Dick.
"Surely," said Ventnor. "First off the go. But they
weren't of any use. The gas, if it is gas, seems to operate
as well through the skin as through the nose and mouth.
We just couldn't make it--and that's all there is to it. But
if you made it--could we try it now, do you think?" he
I felt myself go white.
"Not--not for a little while," I stammered.
He nodded, understandingly.
"I see," he said. "Well, we'll wait a bit, then."
"But why are you staying here? Why didn't you make
for the road up the mountain? What are you watching for,
anyway?" asked Drake.
"Go to it, Ruth," Ventnor grinned. "Tell 'em. After all
--it was YOUR party you know."
"Mart!" she cried, blushing.
"Well--it wasn't ME they admired," he laughed.
"Martin!" she cried again, and stamped her foot.
"Shoot," he said. "I'm busy. I've got to watch."
"Well"--Ruth's voice was uncertain--"we'd been hunting
up in Kashmir. Martin wanted to come over somewhere
here. So we crossed the passes. That was about a
month ago. The fourth day out we ran across what looked
like a road running south.
"We thought we'd take it. It looked sort of old and lost
--but it was going the way we wanted to go. It took us
first into a country of little hills; then to the very base of
the great range itself; finally into the mountains--and then
it ran blank."
"Bing!" interjected Ventnor, looking around for a moment.
"Bing--just like that. Slap dash against a prodigious
fall of rock. We couldn't get over it."
"So we cast about to find another road," went on Ruth.
"All we could strike were--just strikes."
"No fish on the end of 'em," said Ventnor. "God! But
I'm glad to see you, Walter Goodwin. Believe me, I am.
However--go on, Ruth."
"At the end of the second week," she said, "we knew we
were lost. We were deep in the heart of the range. All
around us was a forest of enormous, snow-topped peaks.
The gorges, the canyons, the valleys that we tried led us
east and west, north and south.
"It was a maze, and in it we seemed to be going ever
deeper. There was not the SLIGHTEST sign of human life. It
was as though no human beings except ourselves had
ever been there. Game was plentiful. We had no trouble
in getting food. And sooner or later, of course, we were
bound to find our way out. We didn't worry.
"It was five nights ago that we camped at the head of a
lovely little valley. There was a mound that stood up like
a tiny watch-tower, looking down it. The trees grew round
like tall sentinels.
"We built our fire in that mound; and after we had
eaten, Martin slept. I sat watching the beauty of the skies
and of the shadowy vale. I heard no one approach--but
something made me leap to my feet, look behind me.
"A man was standing just within the glow of firelight,
"A Tibetan?" I asked. She shook her head, trouble in
"Not at all." Ventnor turned his head. "Ruth screamed
and awakened me. I caught a glimpse of the fellow before
"A short purple mantle hung from his shoulders. His
chest was covered with fine chain mail. His legs were
swathed and bound by the thongs of his high buskins.
He carried a small, round, hide-covered shield and a short
two-edged sword. His head was helmeted. He belonged, in
fact--oh, at least twenty centuries back."
He laughed in plain enjoyment of our amazement.
"Go on, Ruth," he said, and took up his watch.
"But Martin did not see his face," she went on. "And
oh, but I wish I could forget it. It was as white as mine,
Walter, and cruel, so cruel; the eyes glowed and they
looked upon me like a--like a slave dealer. They shamed
me--I wanted to hide myself.
"I cried out and Martin awakened. As he moved, the
man stepped out of the light and was gone. I think he had
not seen Martin; had believed that I was alone.
"We put out the fire, moved farther into the shadow of
the trees. But I could not sleep--I sat hour after hour,
my pistol in my hand," she patted the automatic in her
belt, "my rifle close beside me.
"The hours went by--dreadfully. At last I dozed. When
I awakened again it was dawn--and--and--" she covered
her eyes, then: "TWO men were looking down on me. One
was he who had stood in the firelight."
"They were talking," interrupted Ventnor again, "in
"Persian," I repeated blankly; "archaic Persian?"
"Very much so," he nodded. "I've a fair knowledge of
the modern tongue, and a rather unusual command of
Arabic. The modern Persian, as you know, comes straight
through from the speech of Xerxes, of Cyrus, of Darius
whom Alexander of Macedon conquered. It has been
changed mainly by taking on a load of Arabic words. Well
--there wasn't a trace of the Arabic in the tongue they
"It sounded odd, of course--but I could understand
quite easily. They were talking about Ruth. To be explicit,
they were discussing her with exceeding frankness--"
"Martin!" she cried wrathfully.
"Well, all right," he went on, half repentantly. "As a
matter of fact, I had seen the pair steal up. My rifle
was under my hand. So I lay there quietly, listening.
"You can realize, Walter, that when I caught sight of
those two, looking as though they had materialized from
Darius's ghostly hordes, my scientific curiosity was
aroused--prodigiously. So in my interest I passed over the
matter of their speech; not alone because I thought Ruth
asleep but also because I took into consideration that the
mode of polite expression changes with the centuries--
and these gentlemen clearly belonged at least twenty centuries
back--the real truth is I was consumed with curiosity.
"They had got to a point where they were detailing with
what pleasure a certain mysterious person whom they
seemed to regard with much fear and respect would contemplate
her. I was wondering how long my desire to
observe--for to the anthropologist they were most fascinating
--could hold my hand back from my rifle when Ruth awakened.
"She jumped up like a little fury. Fired a pistol point
blank at them. Their amazement was--well--ludicrous. I
know it seems incredible, but they seemed to know nothing
of firearms--they certainly acted as though they didn't.
"They simply flew into the timber. I took a pistol shot
at one but missed. Ruth hadn't though; she had winged
her man; he left a red trail behind him.
"We didn't follow the trail. We made for the opposite
direction--and as fast as possible.
"Nothing happened that day or night. Next morning,
creeping up a slope, we caught sight of a suspicious glitter
a mile or two away in the direction we were going. We
sought shelter in a small ravine. In a little while, over
the hill and half a mile away from us, came about two
hundred of these fellows, marching along.
"And they were indeed Darius's men. Men of that
Persia which had been dead for millenniums. There was
no mistaking them, with their high, covering shields, their
great bows, their javelins and armor.
"They passed; we doubled. We built no fires that night
--and we ought to have turned the pony loose, but we
didn't. It carried my instruments, and ammunition, and I
felt we were going to need the latter.
"The next morning we caught sight of another band--
or the same. We turned again. We stole through a tree-covered
plain; we struck an ancient road. It led south,
into the peaks again. We followed it. It brought us here.
"It isn't, as you observe, the most comfortable of places.
We struck across the hollow to the crevice--we knew
nothing of the entrance you came through. The hollow
was not pleasant, either. But it was penetrable, then.
"We crossed. As we were about to enter the cleft there
issued out of it a most unusual and disconcerting chorus
of sounds--wailings, crashings, splinterings."
I started, shot a look at Dick; absorbed, he was drinking
in Ventnor's every word.
"So unusual, so--well, disconcerting is the best word I
can think of, that we were not encouraged to proceed.
Also the peculiar unpleasantness of the hollow was
"We made the best time we could back to the fortress.
And when next we tried to go through the hollow, to
search for another outlet--we couldn't. You know why,"
he ended abruptly.
"But men in ancient armor. Men like those of Darius."
Dick broke the silence that had followed this amazing
recital. "It's incredible!"
"Yes," agreed Ventnor, "isn't it. But there they were. Of
course, I don't maintain that they WERE relics of Darius's
armies. They might have been of Xerxes before him--or of
Artaxerxes after him. But there they certainly were, Drake,
living, breathing replicas of exceedingly ancient Persians.
"Why, they might have been the wall carvings on the
tomb of Khosroes come to life. I mention Darius because
he fits in with the most plausible hypothesis. When
Alexander the Great smashed his empire he did it rather
thoroughly. There wasn't much sympathy for the vanquished
in those days. And it's entirely conceivable that a
city or two in Alexander's way might have gathered up a
fleeting regiment or so for protection and have decided
not to wait for him, but to hunt for cover.
"Naturally, they would have gone into the almost inaccessible
heart of the high ranges. There is nothing impossible
in the theory that they found shelter at last up
here. As long as history runs this has been a well-nigh
unknown land. Penetrating some mountain-guarded, easily
defended valley they might have decided to settle down
for a time, have rebuilt a city, raised a government; laying
low, in a sentence, waiting for the storm to blow over.
"Why did they stay? Well, they might have found the
new life more pleasant than the old. And they might have
been locked in their valley by some accident--landslides,
rockfalls sealing up the entrance. There are a dozen
"But those who hunted you weren't locked in," objected
"No," Ventnor grinned ruefully. "No, they certainly
weren't. Maybe we drifted into their preserves by a way
they don't know. Maybe they've found another way out.
I'm sure I don't know. But I DO know what I saw."
"The noises, Martin," I said, for his description of these
had been the description of those we had heard in the
blue valley. "Have you heard them since?"
"Yes," he answered, hesitating oddly.
"And you think those--those soldiers you saw are still
hunting for you?"
"Haven't a doubt of it," he replied more cheerfully.
"They didn't look like chaps who would give up a hunt
easily--at least not a hunt for such novel, interesting, and
therefore desirable and delectable game as we must have
appeared to them."
"Martin," I said decisively, "where's your pony? We'll try
the hollow again, at once. There's Ruth--and we'd never
be able to hold back such numbers as you've described."
"You feel strong enough to try it?"
The eagerness, the relief in his voice betrayed the
tension, the anxiety which until now he had hidden so
well; and hot shame burned me for my shrinking, my
dread of again passing through that haunted vale.
"I certainly DO." I was once more master of myself.
"Drake--don't you agree?"
"Sure," he replied. "Sure. I'll look after Ruth--er--I
mean Miss Ventnor."
The glint of amusement in Ventnor's eyes at this faded
abruptly; his face grew somber.
"Wait," he said. "I carried away some--some exhibits
from the crevice of the noises, Goodwin."
"What kind of exhibits?" I asked, eagerly.
"Put 'em where they'd be safe," he continued. "I've an
idea they're far more curious than our armored men--
and of far more importance. At any rate, we must take
them with us.
"Go with Ruth, you and Drake, and look at them. And
bring them back with the pony. Then we'll make a start. A
few minutes more probably won't make much difference
He turned back to his watch. Ordering Chiu-Ming to
stay with him I followed Ruth and Drake down the
ruined stairway. At the bottom she came to me, laid little
hands on my shoulders.
"Walter," she breathed, "I'm frightened. I'm so frightened
I'm afraid to tell even Mart. He doesn't like them,
either, these little things you're going to see. He likes
them so little that he's afraid to let me know how little he
does like them."
"But what are they? What's to fear about them?" asked
"See what you think!" She led us slowly, almost
reluctantly toward the rear of the fortress. "They lay in a
little heap at the mouth of the cleft where we heard the
noises. Martin picked them up and dropped them in a sack
before we ran through the hollow.
"They're grotesque and they're almost CUTE, and they
make me feel as though they were the tiniest tippy-tip of
the claw of some incredibly large cat just stealing around
the corner, a terrible cat, a cat as big as a mountain,"
she ended breathlessly.
We climbed through the crumbling masonry into a
central, open court. Here a clear spring bubbled up in a
ruined and choked stone basin; close to the ancient well
was their pony, contentedly browsing in the thick grass
that grew around it. From one of its hampers Ruth took
a large cloth bag.
"To carry them," she said, and trembled.
We passed through what had once been a great door
into another chamber larger than that we had just left;
and it was in better preservation, the ceiling unbroken, the
light dim after the blazing sun of the court. Near its center
she halted us.
Before me ran a two-feet-wide ragged crack, splitting the
floor and dropping down into black depths. Beyond was an
expanse of smooth flagging, almost clear of debris.
Drake gave a low whistle. I followed his pointing finger.
In the wall at the end whirled two enormous dragon
shapes, cut in low relief. Their gigantic wings, their
monstrous coils, covered the nearly unbroken surface, and
these CHIMERAE were the shapes upon the upthrust blocks
of the haunted roadway.
In Ruth's gaze I read a nameless fear, a half shuddering
But she was not looking at the cavern dragons.
Her gaze was fixed upon what at my first glance seemed
to be a raised and patterned circle in the dust-covered
floor. Not more than a foot in width, it shone wanly with
a pale, metallic bluish luster, as though, I thought, it
had been recently polished. Compared with the wall's
tremendous winged figures this floor design was trivial,
ludicrously insignificant. What could there be about it to
stamp that dread upon Ruth's face?
I leaped the crevice; Dick joined me. Now I could see
that the ring was not continuous. Its broken circle was
made of sharply edged cubes about an inch in height,
separated from each other with mathematical exactness by
another inch of space. I counted them--there were nineteen.
Almost touching them with their bases were an equal
number of pyramids, of tetrahedrons, as sharply angled
and of similar length. They lay on their sides with tips
pointing starlike to six spheres clustered like a conventionalized
five petaled primrose in the exact center. Five of
these spheres--the petals--were, I roughly calculated,
about an inch and a half in diameter, the ball they enclosed
larger by almost an inch.
So orderly was their arrangement, so much like a geometrical
design nicely done by some clever child that I
hesitated to disturb it. I bent, and stiffened, the first touch
of dread upon me.
For within the ring, close to the clustering globes, was
a miniature replica of the giant track in the poppied valley!
It stood out from the dust with the same hint of crushing
force, the same die cut sharpness, the same METALLIC suggestion
--and pointing toward the globes were the claw marks
of the four spreading star points.
I reached down and picked up one of the pyramids. It
seemed to cling to the rock; it was with effort that I
wrenched it away. It gave to the touch a slight sensation
of warmth--how can I describe it?--a warmth that was
I weighed it in my hand. It was oddly heavy, twice
the weight, I should say, of platinum. I drew out a glass
and examined it. Decidedly the pyramid was metallic, but
of finest, almost silken texture--and I could not place it
among any of the known metals. It certainly was none
I had ever seen; yet it was as certainly metal. It was
striated--slender filaments radiating from tiny, dully lustrous
points within the polished surface.
And suddenly I had the weird feeling that each of these
points was an eye, peering up at me, scrutinizing me.
There came a startled cry from Dick.
"Look at the ring!"
The ring was in motion!
Faster the cubes moved; faster the circle revolved; the
pyramids raised themselves, stood bolt upright on their
square bases; the six rolling spheres touched them, joined
the spinning, and with sleight-of-hand suddenness the ring
drew together; its units coalesced, cubes and pyramids and
globes threading with a curious suggestion of ferment.
With the same startling abruptness there stood erect,
where but a moment before they had seethed, a little
figure, grotesque; a weirdly humorous, a vaguely terrifying
foot-high shape, squared and angled and pointed and
ANIMATE--as though a child should build from nursery
blocks a fantastic shape which abruptly is filled with
A troll from the kindergarten! A kobold of the toys!
Only for a second it stood, then began swiftly to change,
melting with quicksilver quickness from one outline into
another as square and triangle and spheres changed places.
Their shiftings were like the transformations one sees
within a kaleidoscope. And in each vanishing form was
the suggestion of unfamiliar harmonies, of a subtle, a
transcendental geometric art as though each swift shaping
were a symbol, a WORD--
Euclid's problems given volition!
Geometry endowed with consciousness!
It ceased. Then the cubes drew one upon the other until
they formed a pedestal nine inches high; up this pillar
rolled the larger globe, balanced itself upon the top; the
five spheres followed it, clustered like a ring just below
it. The other cubes raced up, clicked two by two on the
outer arc of each of the five balls; at the ends of these
twin blocks a pyramid took its place, tipping each with a
The Lilliputian fantasy was now a pedestal of cubes
surmounted by a ring of globes from which sprang a star
of five arms.
The spheres began to revolve. Faster and faster they
spun around the base of the crowning globe; the arms became
a disc upon which tiny brilliant sparks appeared,
clustered, vanished only to reappear in greater number.
The troll swept toward me. It GLIDED. The finger of panic
touched me. I sprang aside, and swift as light it followed,
seemed to poise itself to leap.
"Drop it!" It was Ruth's cry.
But, before I could let fall the pyramid I had forgotten
was in my hand, the little figure touched me and a paralyzing
shock ran through me. My fingers clenched, locked. I
stood, muscle and nerve bound, unable to move.
The little figure paused. Its whirling disc shifted from
the horizontal plane on which it spun. It was as though it
cocked its head to look up at me--and again I had the
sense of innumerable eyes peering at me. It did not seem
menacing--its attitude was inquisitive, waiting; almost as
though it had asked for something and wondered why I did
not let it have it. The shock still held me rigid, although
a tingle in every nerve told me of returning force.
The disc tilted back to place, bent toward me again. I
heard a shout; heard a bullet strike the pigmy that now
clearly menaced; heard the bullet ricochet without the
slightest effect upon it. Dick leaped beside me, raised a
foot and kicked at the thing. There was a flash of light
and upon the instant he crashed down as though struck by
a giant hand, lay sprawling and inert upon the floor.
There was a scream from Ruth; there was softly sibilant
rustling all about her. I saw her leap the crevice, drop on
her knees beside Drake.
There was movement on the flagging where she stood.
A score or more of faintly shining, bluish shapes were
marching there--pyramids and cubes and spheres like those
forming the shape that stood before me. There was a curious
sharp tang of ozone in the air, a perceptible tightening
as of electrical tension.
They swept to the edge of the fissure, swam together, and
there, hanging half over the gap was a bridge, half spanning
it, a weird and fairy arch made up of alternate cube
and angle. The shape at my feet disintegrated; resolved itself
into units that raced over to the beckoning span.
At the hither side of the crack they clicked into place,
even as had the others. Before me now was a bridge complete
except for the one arc near the middle where an
angled gap marred it.
I felt the little object I held pulse within my hand,
striving to escape. I dropped it. The tiny shape swept to
the bridge, ascended it--dropped into the gap.
The arch was complete--hanging in one flying span over
Upon it, over it, as though they had but awaited this
completion, rolled the six globes. And as they dropped to
the farther side the end of the bridge nearest me raised
itself in air, curved itself like a scorpion's tail, drew itself
into a closer circled arc, and dropped upon the floor beyond.
Again the sibilant rustling--and cubes and pyramids and
spheres were gone.
Nerves tingling slowly back to life, mazed in absolute
bewilderment, my gaze sought Drake. He was sitting up,
feebly, his head supported by Ruth's hands.
"Goodwin!" he whispered. "What--what were they?"
"Metal," I said--it was the only word to which my whirling
mind could cling--"metal--"
"Metal!" he echoed. "These things metal? Metal--ALIVE
Suddenly he was silent, his face a page on which, visibly,
dread gathered slowly and ever deeper.
And as I looked at Ruth, white-faced, and at him, I knew
that my own was as pallid, as terror-stricken as theirs.
"They were such LITTLE THINGS," muttered Drake. "Such
little things--bits of metal--little globes and pyramids and
cubes--just little THINGS."
"Babes! Only babes!" It was Ruth--"BABES!"
"Bits of metal"--Dick's gaze sought mine, held it--"and
they looked for each other, they worked with each other--
THINKINGLY, CONSCIOUSLY--they were deliberate, purposeful--
little things--and with the force of a score of dynamos--
"Don't!" Ruth laid white hands over his eyes. "Don't--
don't YOU be frightened!"
"Frightened?" he echoed. "I'M not afraid--yes, I AM
He arose, stiffly--and stumbled toward me.
Afraid? Drake afraid. Well--so was I. Bitterly, TERRIBLY
For what we had beheld in the dusk of that dragoned,
ruined chamber was outside all experience, beyond all
knowledge or dream of science. Not their shapes--that
was nothing. Not even that, being metal, they had moved.
But that being metal, they had moved consciously,
They were metal things with--MINDS!
That--that was the incredible, the terrifying thing. That
--and their power.
Thor compressed within Hop-o'-my-thumb--and thinking.
The lightnings incarnate in metal minacules--and
The inert, the immobile, given volition, movement,
Metal with a brain!
Silently we looked at each other, and silently we
passed out of the courtyard. The dread was heavy upon
me. The twilight was stealing upon the close-clustered
peaks. Another hour, and their amethyst-and-purple mantles
would drop upon them; snowfields and glaciers sparkle
out in irised beauty; nightfall.
As I gazed upon them I wondered to what secret place
within their brooding immensities the little metal mysteries
had fled. And to what myriads, it might be, of their kind?
And these hidden hordes--of what shapes were they? Of
what powers? Small like these, or--or--
Quick on the screen of my mind flashed two pictures,
side by side--the little four-rayed print in the great dust of
the crumbling ruin and its colossal twin on the breast of
the poppied valley.
I turned aside, crept through the shattered portal and
looked over the haunted hollow.
Unbelieving, I rubbed my eyes; then leaped to the very
brim of the bowl.
A lark had risen from the roof of one of the shattered
heaps and had flown caroling up into the shadowy sky.
A flock of the little willow warblers flung themselves
across the valley, scolding and gossiping; a hare sat upright
in the middle of the ancient roadway.
The valley itself lay serenely under the ambering light,
smiling, peaceful--emptied of horror!
I dropped over the side, walked cautiously down the
road up which but an hour or so before we had struggled
so desperately; paced farther and farther with an increasing
confidence and a growing wonder.
Gone was that soul of loneliness; vanished the whirlpool
of despair that had striven to drag us down to death.
The bowl was nothing but a quiet, smiling lovely little
hollow in the hills. I looked back. Even the ruins had lost
their sinister shape; were time-worn, crumbling piles--nothing
I saw Ruth and Drake run out upon the ledge and
beckon me; made my way back to them, running.
"It's all right," I shouted. "The place is all right."
I stumbled up the side; joined them.
"It's empty," I cried. "Get Martin and Chiu-Ming quick!
While the way's open--"
A rifle-shot rang out above us; another and another.
From the portal scampered Chiu-Ming, his robe tucked up
about his knees.
"They come!" he gasped. "They come!"
There was a flashing of spears high up the winding
mountain path. Down it was pouring an avalanche of men.
I caught the glint of helmets and corselets. Those in the
van were mounted, galloping two abreast upon sure-footed
mountain ponies. Their short swords, lifted high, flickered.
After the horsemen swarmed foot soldiers, a forest of
shining points and dully gleaming pikes above them. Clearly
to us came their battlecries.
Again Ventnor's rifle cracked. One of the foremost riders
went down; another stumbled over him, fell. The rush was
checked for an instant, milling upon the road.
"Dick," I cried, "rush Ruth over to the tunnel mouth.
We'll follow. We can hold them there. I'll get Martin.
Chiu-Ming, after the pony, quick."
I pushed the two over the rim of the hollow. Side by
side the Chinaman and I ran back through the gateway.
I pointed to the animal and rushed back into the fortress.
"Quick, Mart!" I shouted up the shattered stairway. "We
can get through the hollow. Ruth and Drake are on their
way to the break we came through. Hurry!"
"All right. Just a minute," he called.
I heard him empty his magazine with almost machine-gun
quickness. There was a short pause, and down the
broken steps he leaped, gray eyes blazing.
"The pony?" He ran beside me toward the portal. "All
my ammunition is on him."
"Chiu-Ming's taking care of that," I gasped.
We darted out of the gateway. A good five hundred
yards away were Ruth and Drake, running straight to the
green tunnel's mouth. Between them and us was Chiu-Ming
urging on the pony.
As we sped after him I looked back. The horsemen had
recovered, were now a scant half-mile from where the
road swept past the fortress. I saw that with their swords
the horsemen bore great bows. A little cloud of arrows
sparkled from them; fell far short.
"Don't look back," grunted Ventnor. "Stretch yourself,
Walter. There's a surprise coming. Hope to God I judged
the time right."
We turned off the ruined way; raced over the sward.
"If it looks as though--we can't make it," he panted,
"YOU beat it after the rest. I'll try to hold 'em until you
get into the tunnel. Never do for 'em to get Ruth."
"Right." My own breathing was growing labored, "WE'LL
hold them. Drake can take care of Ruth."
"Good boy," he said. "I wouldn't have asked you. It
probably means death."
"Very well," I gasped, irritated. "But why borrow
He reached out, touched me.
"You're right, Walter," he grinned. "It does--seem--like
carrying coals--to Newcastle."
There was a thunderous booming behind us; a shattering
crash. A cloud of smoke and dust hung over the northern
end of the ruined fortress.
It lifted swiftly, and I saw that the whole side of the
structure had fallen, littering the road with its fragments.
Scattered prone among these were men and horses; others
staggered, screaming. On the farther side of this stony dike
our pursuers were held like rushing waters behind a sudden
"Timed to a second!" cried Ventnor. "Hold 'em for a
while. Fuses and dynamite. Blew out the whole side, right
on 'em, by the Lord!"
On we fled. Chiu-Ming was now well in advance; Ruth
and Dick less than half a mile from the opening of the
green tunnel. I saw Drake stop, raise his rifle, empty it
before him, and, holding Ruth by the hand, race back toward
Even as he turned, the vine-screened entrance through
which we had come, through which we had thought lay
safety, streamed other armored men. We were outflanked.
"To the fissure!" shouted Ventnor. Drake heard, for he
changed his course to the crevice at whose mouth Ruth
had said the--Little Things--had lain.
After him streaked Chiu-Ming, urging on the pony.
Shouting out of the tunnel, down over the lip of the bowl,
leaped the soldiers. We dropped upon our knees, sent shot
after shot into them. They fell back, hesitated. We sprang
up, sped on.
All too short was the check, but once more we held
Now Ruth and Dick were a scant fifty yards from the
crevice. I saw him stop, push her from him toward it. She
shook her head.
Now Chiu-Ming was with them. Ruth sprang to the
pony, lifted from its back a rifle. Then into the mass of
their pursuers Drake and she poured a fusillade. They
huddled, wavered, broke for cover.
"A chance!" gasped Ventnor.
Behind us was a wolflike yelping. The first pack had
re-formed; had crossed the barricade the dynamite had
made; was rushing upon us.
I ran as I had never known I could. Over us whined the
bullets from the covering guns. Close were we now to
the mouth of the fissure. If we could but reach it. Close,
close were our pursuers, too--the arrows closer.
"No use!" said Ventnor. "We can't make it. Meet 'em
from the front. Drop--and shoot."
We threw ourselves down, facing them. There came a
triumphant shouting. And in that strange sharpening of
the senses that always goes hand in hand with deadly peril,
that is indeed nature's summoning of every reserve to
meet that peril, my eyes took them in with photographic
nicety--the linked mail, lacquered blue and scarlet, of the
horsemen; brown, padded armor of the footmen; their
bows and javelins and short bronze swords, their pikes
and shields; and under their round helmets their cruel,
bearded faces--white as our own where the black beards
did not cover them; their fierce and mocking eyes.
The springs of ancient Persia's long dead power, these.
Men of Xerxes's ruthless, world-conquering hordes; the
lustful, ravening wolves of Darius whom Alexander scattered
--in this world of ours twenty centuries beyond their
Swiftly, accurately, even as I scanned them, we had
been drilling into them. They advanced deliberately, heedless
of their fallen. Their arrows had ceased to fly. I wondered
why, for now we were well within their range. Had
they orders to take us alive--at whatever cost to themselves?
"I've got only about ten cartridges left, Martin," I told
"We've saved Ruth anyway," he said. "Drake ought to
be able to hold that hole in the wall. He's got lots of
ammunition on the pony. But they've got us."
Another wild shouting; down swept the pack.
We leaped to our feet, sent our last bullets into them;
stood ready, rifles clubbed to meet the rush. I heard Ruth
What was the matter with the armored men? Why had
they halted? What was it at which they were glaring over
our heads? And why had the rifle fire of Ruth and Drake
ceased so abruptly?
Simultaneously we turned.
Within the black background of the fissure stood a shape,
an apparition, a woman--beautiful, awesome, incredible!
She was tall, standing there swathed from chin to feet in
clinging veils of pale amber, she seemed taller even than
tall Drake. Yet it was not her height that sent through me
the thrill of awe, of half incredulous terror which, relaxing
my grip, let my smoking rifle drop to earth; nor was it
that about her proud head a cloud of shining tresses swirled
and pennoned like a misty banner of woven copper flames
--no, nor that through her veils her body gleamed faint
It was her eyes--her great, wide eyes whose clear depths
were like pools of living star fires. They shone from her
white face--not phosphorescent, not merely lucent and
light reflecting, but as though they themselves were SOURCES
of the cold white flames of far stars--and as calm as those
And in that face, although as yet I could distinguish
nothing but the eyes, I sensed something unearthly.
"God!" whispered Ventnor. "What IS she?"
The woman stepped from the crevice. Not fifty feet from
her were Ruth and Drake and Chiu-Ming, their rigid attitudes
revealing the same shock of awe that had momentarily
She looked at them, beckoned them. I saw the two
walk toward her, Chiu-Ming hang back. The great eyes fell
upon Ventnor and myself. She raised a hand, motioned us
I turned. There stood the host that had poured down
(he mountain road, horsemen, spearsmen, pikemen--a full
thousand of them. At my right were the scattered company
that had come from the tunnel entrance, threescore
There seemed a spell upon them. They stood in silence,
like automatons, only their fiercely staring eyes showing
that they were alive.
"Quick," breathed Ventnor.
We ran toward her who had checked death even while
its jaws were closing upon us.
Before we had gone half-way, as though our flight had
broken whatever bonds had bound them, a clamor arose
from the host; a wild shouting, a clanging of swords on
shields. I shot a glance behind. They were in motion, advancing
slowly, hesitatingly as yet--but I knew that soon
that hesitation would pass; that they would sweep down
upon us, engulf us.
"To the crevice," I shouted to Drake. He paid no heed
to me, nor did Ruth--their gaze fastened upon the swathed
Ventnor's hand shot out, gripped my shoulder, halted me.
She had thrown up her head. The cloudy METALLIC hair
billowed as though wind had blown it.
From the lifted throat came a low, a vibrant cry; harmonious,
weirdly disquieting, golden and sweet--and laden
with the eery, minor wailings of the blue valley's night,
the dragoned chamber.
Before the cry had ceased there poured with incredible
swiftness out of the crevice score upon score of
the metal things. The fissures vomited them!
Globes and cubes and pyramids--not small like those
of the ruins, but shapes all of four feet high, dully lustrous,
and deep within that luster the myriads of tiny points of
light like unwinking, staring eyes.
They swirled, eddied and formed a barricade between
us and the armored men.
Down upon them poured a shower of arrows from the
soldiers. I heard the shouts of their captains; they rushed.
They had courage--those men--yes!
Again came the woman's cry--golden, peremptory.
Sphere and block and pyramid ran together, seemed to
seethe. I had again that sense of a quicksilver melting.
Up from them thrust a thick rectangular column.
Eight feet in width and twenty feet high, it shaped itself.
Out from its left side, from right side, sprang arms
--fearful arms that grew and grew as globe and cube and
angle raced up the column's side and clicked into place
each upon, each after, the other. With magical quickness
the arms lengthened.
Before us stood a monstrous shape; a geometric prodigy.
A shining angled pillar that, though rigid, immobile,
seemed to crouch, be instinct with living force striving to
Two great globes surmounted it--like the heads of some
two-faced Janus of an alien world.
At the left and right the knobbed arms, now fully fifty
feet in length, writhed, twisted, straightened; flexing
themselves in grotesque imitation of a boxer. And at the end
of each of the six arms the spheres were clustered thick,
studded with the pyramids--again in gigantic, awful, parody
of the spiked gloves of those ancient gladiators who
fought for imperial Nero.
For an instant it stood here, preening, testing itself like
an athlete--a chimera, amorphous yet weirdly symmetric
--under the darkening sky, in the green of the hollow,
the armored hosts frozen before it--
And then--it struck!