THE MOON POOL (15)
September 20, 2021
HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize A. Merritt’s 1919 proto-sf novel The Moon Pool for HILOBROW’s readers. Often cited as an influence on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, it was first published in All-Story Weekly (1918–19) as two short stories.
The Justice of Lora
As I looked at her the man arose and made his way round the table toward us. For the first time my eyes took in Lugur. A few inches taller than the green dwarf, he was far broader, more filled with the suggestion of appalling strength.
The tremendous shoulders were four feet wide if an inch, tapering down to mighty thewed thighs. The muscles of his chest stood out beneath his tunic of red. Around his forehead shone a chaplet of bright-blue stones, sparkling among the thick curls of his silver-ash hair.
Upon his face pride and ambition were written large—and power still larger. All the mockery, the malice, the hint of callous indifference that I had noted in the other dwarfish men were there, too—but intensified, touched with the satanic.
The woman spoke again.
“Who are you strangers, and how came you here?” She turned to Rador. “Or is it that they do not understand our tongue?”
“One understands and speaks it—but very badly, O Yolara,” answered the green dwarf.
“Speak, then, that one of you,” she commanded.
But it was Marakinoff who found his voice first, and I marvelled at the fluency, so much greater than mine, with which he spoke.
“We came for different purposes. I to seek knowledge of a kind; he”—pointing to me “of another. This man”—he looked at Olaf—”to find a wife and child.”
The grey-blue eyes had been regarding O’Keefe steadily and with plainly increasing interest.
“And why did you come?” she asked him. “Nay—I would have him speak for himself, if he can,” she stilled Marakinoff peremptorily.
When Larry spoke it was haltingly, in the tongue that was strange to him, searching for the proper words.
“I came to help these men—and because something I could not then understand called me, O lady, whose eyes are like forest pools at dawn,” he answered; and even in the unfamiliar words there was a touch of the Irish brogue, and little merry lights danced in the eyes Larry had so apostrophized.
“I could find fault with your speech, but none with its burden,” she said. “What forest pools are I know not, and the dawn has not shone upon the people of Lora these many sais of laya. But I sense what you mean!”
The eyes deepened to blue as she regarded him. She smiled.
“Are there many like you in the world from which you come?” she asked softly. “Well, we soon shall—”
Lugur interrupted her almost rudely and glowering.
“Best we should know how they came hence,” he growled.
She darted a quick look at him, and again the little devils danced in her wondrous eyes.
[Unquestionably there is a subtle difference between time as we know it and time in this subterranean land—its progress there being slower. This, however, is only in accord with the well-known doctrine of relativity, which predicates both space and time as necessary inventions of the human mind to orient itself to the conditions under which it finds itself. I tried often to measure this difference, but could never do so to my entire satisfaction. The closest I can come to it is to say that an hour of our time is the equivalent of an hour and five-eighths in Muria. For further information upon this matter of relativity the reader may consult any of the numerous books upon the subject.—W. T. G.]
“Yes, that is true,” she said. “How came you here?”
Again it was Marakinoff who answered—slowly, considering every word.
“In the world above,” he said, “there are ruins of cities not built by any of those who now dwell there. To us these places called, and we sought for knowledge of the wise ones who made them. We found a passageway. The way led us downward to a door in yonder cliff, and through it we came here.”
“Then have you found what you sought?” spoke she. “For we are of those who built the cities. But this gateway in the rock—where is it?”
“After we passed, it closed upon us; nor could we after find trace of it,” answered Marakinoff.
The incredulity that had shown upon the face of the green dwarf fell upon theirs; on Lugur’s it was clouded with furious anger.
He turned to Rador.
“I could find no opening, lord,” said the green dwarf quickly.
And there was so fierce a fire in the eyes of Lugur as he swung back upon us that O’Keefe’s hand slipped stealthily down toward his pistol.
“Best it is to speak truth to Yolara, priestess of the Shining One, and to Lugur, the Voice,” he cried menacingly.
“It is the truth,” I interposed. “We came down the passage. At its end was a carved vine, a vine of five flowers”—the fire died from the red dwarf’s eyes, and I could have sworn to a swift pallor. “I rested a hand upon these flowers, and a door opened. But when we had gone through it and turned, behind us was nothing but unbroken cliff. The door had vanished.”
I had taken my cue from Marakinoff. If he had eliminated the episode of car and Moon Pool, he had good reason, I had no doubt; and I would be as cautious. And deep within me something cautioned me to say nothing of my quest; to stifle all thought of Throckmartin—something that warned, peremptorily, finally, as though it were a message from Throckmartin himself!
“A vine with five flowers!” exclaimed the red dwarf. “Was it like this, say?”
He thrust forward a long arm. Upon the thumb of the hand was an immense ring, set with a dull-blue stone. Graven on the face of the jewel was the symbol of the rosy walls of the Moon Chamber that had opened to us their two portals. But cut over the vine were seven circles, one about each of the flowers and two larger ones covering, intersecting them.
“This is the same,” I said; “but these were not there”—I indicated the circles.
The woman drew a deep breath and looked deep into Lugur’s eyes.
“The sign of the Silent Ones!” he half whispered.
It was the woman who first recovered herself.
“The strangers are weary, Lugur,” she said. “When they are rested they shall show where the rocks opened.”
I sensed a subtle change in their attitude toward us; a new intentness; a doubt plainly tinged with apprehension. What was it they feared? Why had the symbol of the vine wrought the change? And who or what were the Silent Ones?
Yolara’s eyes turned to Olaf, hardened, and grew cold grey. Subconsciously I had noticed that from the first the Norseman had been absorbed in his regard of the pair; had, indeed, never taken his gaze from them; had noticed, too, the priestess dart swift glances toward him.
He returned her scrutiny fearlessly, a touch of contempt in the clear eyes—like a child watching a snake which he did not dread, but whose danger be well knew.
Under that look Yolara stirred impatiently, sensing, I know, its meaning.
“Why do you look at me so?” she cried.
An expression of bewilderment passed over Olaf’s face.
“I do not understand,” he said in English.
I caught a quickly repressed gleam in O’Keefe’s eyes. He knew, as I knew, that Olaf must have understood. But did Marakinoff?
Apparently he did not. But why was Olaf feigning ignorance?
“This man is a sailor from what we call the North,” thus Larry haltingly. “He is crazed, I think. He tells a strange tale of a something of cold fire that took his wife and babe. We found him wandering where we were. And because he is strong we brought him with us. That is all, O lady, whose voice is sweeter than the honey of the wild bees!”
“A shape of cold fire?” she repeated.
“A shape of cold fire that whirled beneath the moon, with the sound of little bells,” answered Larry, watching her intently.
She looked at Lugur and laughed.
“Then he, too, is fortunate,” she said. “For he has come to the place of his something of cold fire—and tell him that he shall join his wife and child, in time; that I promise him.”
Upon the Norseman’s face there was no hint of comprehension, and at that moment I formed an entirely new opinion of Olaf’s intelligence; for certainly it must have been a prodigious effort of the will, indeed, that enabled him, understanding, to control himself.
“What does she say?” he asked.
“Good!” said Olaf. “Good!”
He looked at Yolara with well-assumed gratitude. Lugur, who had been scanning his bulk, drew close. He felt the giant muscles which Huldricksson accommodatingly flexed for him.
“But he shall meet Valdor and Tahola before he sees those kin of his,” he laughed mockingly. “And if he bests them—for reward—his wife and babe!”
A shudder, quickly repressed, shook the seaman’s frame. The woman bent her supremely beautiful head.
“These two,” she said, pointing to the Russian and to me, “seem to be men of learning. They may be useful. As for this man,”—she smiled at Larry—”I would have him explain to me some things.” She hesitated. “What ‘hon-ey of ‘e wild bees-s’ is.” Larry had spoken the words in English, and she was trying to repeat them. “As for this man, the sailor, do as you please with him, Lugur; always remembering that I have given my word that he shall join that wife and babe of his!” She laughed sweetly, sinisterly. “And now—take them, Rador—give them food and drink and let them rest till we shall call them again.”
She stretched out a hand toward O’Keefe. The Irishman bowed low over it, raised it softly to his lips. There was a vicious hiss from Lugur; but Yolara regarded Larry with eyes now all tender blue.
“You please me,” she whispered.
And the face of Lugur grew darker.
We turned to go. The rosy, azure-shot globe at her side suddenly dulled. From it came a faint bell sound as of chimes far away. She bent over it. It vibrated, and then its surface ran with little waves of dull colour; from it came a whispering so low that I could not distinguish the words—if words they were.
She spoke to the red dwarf.
“They have brought the three who blasphemed the Shining One,” she said slowly. “Now it is in my mind to show these strangers the justice of Lora. What say you, Lugur?”
The red dwarf nodded, his eyes sparkling with a malicious anticipation.
The woman spoke again to the globe. “Bring them here!”
And again it ran swiftly with its film of colours, darkened, and shone rosy once more. From without there came a rustle of many feet upon the rugs. Yolara pressed a slender hand upon the base of the pedestal of the globe beside her. Abruptly the light faded from all, and on the same instant the four walls of blackness vanished, revealing on two sides the lovely, unfamiliar garden through the guarding rows of pillars; at our backs soft draperies hid what lay beyond; before us, flanked by flowered screens, was the corridor through which we had entered, crowded now by the green dwarfs of the great hall.
The dwarfs advanced. Each, I now noted, had the same clustering black hair of Rador. They separated, and from them stepped three figures—a youth ofnot more than twenty, short, but with the great shoulders of all the males we had seen of this race; a girl of seventeen, I judged, white-faced, a head taller than the boy, her long, black hair dishevelled; and behind these two a stunted, gnarled shape whose head was sunk deep between the enormous shoulders, whose white beard fell like that of some ancient gnome down to his waist, and whose eyes were a white flame of hate. The girl cast herself weeping at the feet of the priestess; the youth regarded her curiously.
“You are Songar of the Lower Waters?” murmured Yolara almost caressingly. “And this is your daughter and her lover?”
The gnome nodded, the flame in his eyes leaping higher.
“It has come to me that you three have dared blaspheme the Shining One, its priestess, and its Voice,” went on Yolara smoothly. “Also that you have called out to the three Silent Ones. Is it true?”
“Your spies have spoken—and have you not already judged us?” The voice of the old dwarf was bitter.
A flicker shot through the eyes of Yolara, again cold grey. The girl reached a trembling hand out to the hem of the priestess’s veils.
“Tell us why you did these things, Songar,” she said. “Why you did them, knowing full well what your—reward—would be.”
The dwarf stiffened; he raised his withered arms, and his eyes blazed.
“Because evil are your thoughts and evil are your deeds,” he cried. “Yours and your lover’s, there”—he levelled a finger at Lugur. “Because of the Shining One you have made evil, too, and the greater wickedness you contemplate—you and he with the Shining One. But I tell you that your measure of iniquity is full; the tale of your sin near ended! Yea—the Silent Ones have been patient, but soon they will speak.” He pointed at us. “A sign are they—a warning—harlot!” He spat the word.
In Yolara’s eyes, grown black, the devils leaped unrestrained.
“Is it even so, Songar?” her voice caressed. “Now ask the Silent Ones to help you! They sit afar—but surely they will hear you.” The sweet voice was mocking. “As for these two, they shall pray to the Shining One for forgiveness—and surely the Shining One will take them to its bosom! As for you—you have lived long enough, Songar! Pray to the Silent Ones, Songar, and pass out into the nothingness—you!”
She dipped down into her bosom and drew forth something that resembled a small cone of tarnished silver. She levelled it, a covering clicked from its base, and out of it darted a slender ray of intense green light.
It struck the old dwarf squarely over the heart, and spread swift as light itself, covering him with a gleaming, pale film. She clenched her hand upon the cone, and the ray disappeared. She thrust the cone back into her breast and leaned forward expectantly; so Lugur and so the other dwarfs. From the girl came a low wail of anguish; the boy dropped upon his knees, covering his face.
For the moment the white beard stood rigid; then the robe that had covered him seemed to melt away, revealing all the knotted, monstrous body. And in that body a vibration began, increasing to incredible rapidity. It wavered before us like a reflection in a still pond stirred by a sudden wind. It grew and grew—to a rhythm whose rapidity was intolerable to watch and that still chained the eyes.
The figure grew indistinct, misty. Tiny sparks in infinite numbers leaped from it—like, I thought, the radiant shower of particles hurled out by radium when seen under the microscope. Mistier still it grew—there trembled before us for a moment a faintly luminous shadow which held, here and there, tiny sparkling atoms like those that pulsed in the light about us! The glowing shadow vanished, the sparkling atoms were still for a moment—and shot away, joining those dancing others.
Where the gnomelike form had been but a few seconds before—there was nothing!
O’Keefe drew a long breath, and I was sensible of a prickling along my scalp.
Yolara leaned toward us.
“You have seen,” she said. Her eyes lingered tigerishly upon Olaf’s pallid face. “Heed!” she whispered. She turned to the men in green, who were laughing softly among themselves.
“Take these two, and go!” she commanded.
“The justice of Lora,” said the red dwarf. “The justice of Lora and the Shining One under Thanaroa!”
Upon the utterance of the last word I saw Marakinoff start violently. The hand at his side made a swift, surreptitious gesture, so fleeting that I hardly caught it. The red dwarf stared at the Russian, and there was amazement upon his face.
Swiftly as Marakinoff, he returned it.
“Yolara,” the red dwarf spoke, “it would please me to take this man of wisdom to my own place for a time. The giant I would have, too.”
The woman awoke from her brooding; nodded.
“As you will, Lugur,” she said.
And as, shaken to the core, we passed out into the garden into the full throbbing of the light, I wondered if all the tiny sparkling diamond points that shook about us had once been men like Songar of the Lower Waters—and felt my very soul grow sick!
 Later I was to find that Murian reckoning rested upon the extraordinary increased luminosity of the cliffs at the time of full moon on earth—this action, to my mind, being linked either with the effect of the light streaming globes upon the Moon Pool, whose source was in the shining cliffs, or else upon some mysterious affinity of their radiant element with the flood of moonlight on earth—the latter, most probably, because even when the moon must have been clouded above, it made no difference in the phenomenon. Thirteen of these shinings forth constituted a laya, one of them a lat. Ten was sa; ten times ten times ten a said, or thousand; ten times a thousand was a sais. A sais of laya was then literally ten thousand years. What we would call an hour was by them called a va. The whole time system was, of course, a mingling of time as it had been known to their remote, surface-dwelling ancestors, and the peculiar determining factors in the vast cavern.
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'”.