THE MOON POOL (22)
November 5, 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.
A clamour arose from all the chambers; stilled in an instant by a motion of Yolara’s hand. She stood silent, regarding O’Keefe with something other now than blind wrath; something half regretful, half beseeching. But the Irishman’s control was gone.
“Yolara,”—his voice shook with rage, and he threw caution to the wind—”now hear me. I go where I will and when I will. Here shall we stay until the time she named is come. And then we follow her, whether you will or not. And if any should have thought to stop us—tell them of that flame that shattered the vase,” he added grimly.
The wistfulness died out of her eyes, leaving them cold. But no answer made she to him.
“What Lakla has said, the Council must consider, and at once.” The priestess was facing the nobles. “Now, friends of mine, and friends of Lugur, must all feud, all rancour, between us end.” She glanced swiftly at Lugur. “The ladala are stirring, and the Silent Ones threaten. Yet fear not—for are we not strong under the Shining One? And now—leave us.”
Her hand dropped to the table, and she gave, evidently, a signal, for in marched a dozen or more of the green dwarfs.
“Take these two to their place,” she commanded, pointing to us.
The green dwarfs clustered about us. Without another look at the priestess O’Keefe marched beside me, between them, from the chamber. And it was not until we had reached the pillared entrance that Larry spoke.
“I hate to talk like that to a woman, Doc,” he said, “and a pretty woman, at that. But first she played me with a marked deck, and then not only pinched all the chips, but drew a gun on me. What the hell! she nearly had me—married—to her. I don’t know what the stuff was she gave me; but, take it from me, if I had the recipe for that brew I could sell it for a thousand dollars a jolt at Forty-second and Broadway.
“One jigger of it, and you forget there is a trouble in the world; three of them, and you forget there is a world. No excuse for it, Doc; and I don’t care what you say or what Lakla may say—it wasn’t my fault, and I don’t hold it up against myself for a damn.”
“I must admit that I’m a bit uneasy about her threats,” I said, ignoring all this. He stopped abruptly.
“What’re you afraid of?”
“Mostly,” I answered dryly, “I have no desire to dance with the Shining One!”
“Listen to me, Goodwin,” He took up his walk impatiently. “I’ve all the love and admiration for you in the world; but this place has got your nerve. Hereafter one Larry O’Keefe, of Ireland and the little old U. S. A., leads this party. Nix on the tremolo stop, nix on the superstition! I’m the works. Get me?”
“Yes, I get you!” I exclaimed testily enough. “But to use your own phrase, kindly can the repeated references to superstition.”
“Why should I?” He was almost wrathful. “You scientific people build up whole philosophies on the basis of things you never saw, and you scoff at people who believe in other things that you think they never saw and that don’t come under what you label scientific. You talk about paradoxes—why, your scientist, who thinks he is the most skeptical, the most materialistic aggregation of atoms ever gathered at the exact mathematical centre of Missouri, has more blind faith than a dervish, and more credulity, more superstition, than a cross-eyed smoke beating it past a country graveyard in the dark of the moon!”
“Larry!” I cried, dazed.
“Olaf’s no better,” he said. “But I can make allowances for him. He’s a sailor. No, sir. What this expedition needs is a man without superstition. And remember this. The leprechaun promised that I’d have full warning before anything happened. And if we do have to go out, we’ll see that banshee bunch clean up before we do, and pass in a blaze of glory. And don’t forget it. Hereafter—I’m—in—charge!”
By this time we were before our pavilion; and neither of us in a very amiable mood I’m afraid. Rador was awaiting us with a score of his men.
“Let none pass in here without authority—and let none pass out unless I accompany them,” he ordered bruskly. “Summon one of the swiftest of the coria and have it wait in readiness,” he added, as though by afterthought.
But when we had entered and the screens were drawn together his manner changed; all eagerness he questioned us. Briefly we told him of the happenings at the feast, of Lakla’s dramatic interruption, and of what had followed.
“Three tal,” he said musingly; “three tal the Silent Ones have allowed—and Yolara agreed.” He sank back, silent and thoughtful.
“Ja!” It was Olaf. “Ja! I told you the Shining Devil’s mistress was all evil. Ja! Now I begin again that tale I started when he came”—he glanced toward the preoccupied Rador. “And tell him not what I say should he ask. For I trust none here in Trolldom, save the Jomfrau—the White Virgin!
“After the oldster was adsprede“—Olaf once more used that expressive Norwegian word for the dissolving of Songar—”I knew that it was a time for cunning. I said to myself, ‘If they think I have no ears to hear, they will speak; and it may be I will find a way to save my Helma and Dr. Goodwin’s friends, too.’ Ja, and they did speak.
“The red Trolde asked the Russian how came it he was a worshipper of Thanaroa.” I could not resist a swift glance of triumph toward O’Keefe. “And the Russian,” rumbled Olaf, “said that all his people worshipped Thanaroa and had fought against the other nations that denied him.
“And then we had come to Lugur’s palace. They put me in rooms, and there came to me men who rubbed and oiled me and loosened my muscles. The next day I wrestled with a great dwarf they called Valdor. He was a mighty man, and long we struggled, and at last I broke his back. And Lugur was pleased, so that I sat with him at feast and with the Russian, too. And again, not knowing that I understood them, they talked.
“The Russian had gone fast and far. They talked of Lugur as emperor of all Europe, and Marakinoff under him. They spoke of the green light that shook life from the oldster; and Lugur said that the secret of it had been the Ancient Ones’ and that the Council had not too much of it. But the Russian said that among his race were many wise men who could make more once they had studied it.
“And the next day I wrestled with a great dwarf named Tahola, mightier far than Valdor. Him I threw after a long, long time, and his back also I broke. Again Lugur was pleased. And again we sat at table, he and the Russian and I. This time they spoke of something these Trolde have which opens up a Svaelc—abysses into which all in its range drops up into the sky!”
“What!” I exclaimed.
“I know about them,” said Larry. “Wait!”
“Lugur had drunk much,” went on Olaf. “He was boastful. The Russian pressed him to show this thing. After a while the red one went out and came back with a little golden box. He and the Russian went into the garden. I followed them. There was a lille Hoj—a mound—of stones in that garden on which grew flowers and trees.
“Lugur pressed upon the box, and a spark no bigger than a sand grain leaped out and fell beside the stones. Lugur pressed again, and a blue light shot from the box and lighted on the spark. The spark that had been no bigger than a grain of sand grew and grew as the blue struck it. And then there was a sighing, a wind blew—and the stones and the flowers and the trees were not. They were forsvinde—vanished!
“Then Lugur, who had been laughing, grew quickly sober; for he thrust the Russian back—far back. And soon down into the garden came tumbling the stones and the trees, but broken and shattered, and falling as though from a great height. And Lugur said that of this something they had much, for its making was a secret handed down by their own forefathers and not by the Ancient Ones.
“They feared to use it, he said, for a spark thrice as large as that he had used would have sent all that garden falling upward and might have opened a way to the outside before—he said just this—’before we are ready to go out into it!‘
“The Russian questioned much, but Lugur sent for more drink and grew merrier and threatened him, and the Russian was silent through fear. Thereafter I listened when I could, and little more I learned, but that little enough. Ja! Lugur is hot for conquest; so Yolara and so the Council. They tire of it here and the Silent Ones make their minds not too easy, no, even though they jeer at them! And this they plan—to rule our world with their Shining Devil.”
The Norseman was silent for a moment; then voice deep, trembling—
“Trolldom is awake; Helvede crouches at Earth Gate whining to be loosed into a world already devil ridden! And we are but three!”
I felt the blood drive out of my heart. But Larry’s was the fighting face of the O’Keefes of a thousand years. Rador glanced at him, arose, stepped through the curtains; returned swiftly with the Irishman’s uniform.
“Put it on,” he said, bruskly; again fell back into his silence and whatever O’Keefe had been about to say was submerged in his wild and joyful whoop. He ripped from him glittering tunic and leg swathings.
“Richard is himself again!” he shouted; and each garment as he donned it, fanned his old devil-may-care confidence to a higher flame. The last scrap of it on, he drew himself up before us.
“Bow down, ye divils!” he cried. “Bang your heads on the floor and do homage to Larry the First, Emperor of Great Britain, Autocrat of all Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales, and adjacent waters and islands! Kneel, ye scuts, kneel.”
“Larry,” I cried, “are you going crazy?”
“Not a bit of it,” he said. “I’m that and more if Comrade Marakinoff is on the level. Whoop! Bring forth the royal jewels an’ put a whole new bunch of golden strings in Tara’s harp an’ down with the Sassenach forever! Whoop!”
He did a wild jig.
“Lord how good the old togs feel,” he grinned. “The touch of ’em has gone to my head. But it’s straight stuff I’m telling you about my empire.”
“Not that it’s not serious enough at that. A lot that Olaf’s told us I’ve surmised from hints dropped by Yolara. But I got the full key to it from the Red himself when he stopped me just before—before”—he reddened—”well, just before I acquired that brand-new brand of souse.
“Maybe he had a hint—maybe he just surmised that I knew a lot more than I did. And he thought Yolara and I were going to be loving little turtle doves. Also he figured that Yolara had a lot more influence with the Unholy Fireworks than Lugur. Also that being a woman she could be more easily handled. All this being so, what was the logical thing for himself to do? Sure, you get me, Steve! Throw down Lugur and make an alliance with me! So he calmly offered to ditch the red dwarf if I would deliver Yolara. My reward from Russia was to be said emperorship! Can you beat it? Good Lord!”
He went off into a perfect storm of laughter. But not to me in the light of what Russia has done and has proved herself capable, did this thing seem at all absurd; rather in it I sensed the dawn of catastrophe colossal.
“And yet,” he was quiet enough now, “I’m a bit scared. They’ve got the Keth ray and those gravity-destroying bombs—”
“Gravity-destroying bombs!” I gasped.
“Sure,” he said. “The little fairy that sent the trees and stones kiting up from Lugur’s garden. Marakinoff licked his lips over them. They cut off gravity, just about as the shadow screens cut off light—and consequently whatever’s in their range goes shooting just naturally up to the moon—
“They get my goat, why deny it?” went on Larry. “With them and the Keth and gentle invisible soldiers walking around assassinating at will—well, the worst Bolsheviki are only puling babes, eh, Doc?
“I don’t mind the Shining One,” said O’Keefe, “one splash of a downtown New York high-pressure fire hose would do for it! But the others—are the goods! Believe me!”
But for once O’Keefe’s confidence found no echo within me. Not lightly, as he, did I hold that dread mystery, the Dweller—and a vision passed before me, a vision of an Apocalypse undreamed by the Evangelist.
A vision of the Shining One swirling into our world, a monstrous, glorious flaming pillar of incarnate, eternal Evil—of peoples passing through its radiant embrace into that hideous, unearthly life-in-death which I had seen enfold the sacrifices—of armies trembling into dancing atoms of diamond dust beneath the green ray’s rhythmic death—of cities rushing out into space upon the wings of that other demoniac force which Olaf had watched at work—of a haunted world through which the assassins of the Dweller’s court stole invisible, carrying with them every passion of hell—of the rallying to the Thing of every sinister soul and of the weak and the unbalanced, mystics and carnivores of humanity alike; for well I knew that, once loosed, not any nation could hold this devil-god for long and that swiftly its blight would spread!
And then a world that was all colossal reek of cruelty and terror; a welter of lusts, of hatreds and of torment; a chaos of horror in which the Dweller waxing ever stronger, the ghastly hordes of those it had consumed growing ever greater, wreaked its inhuman will!
At the last a ruined planet, a cosmic plague, spinning through the shuddering heavens; its verdant plains, its murmuring forests, its meadows and its mountains manned only by a countless crew of soulless, mindless dead-alive, their shells illumined with the Dweller’s infernal glory—and flaming over this vampirized earth like a flare from some hell far, infinitely far, beyond the reach of man’s farthest flung imagining—the Dweller!
Rador jumped to his feet; walked to the whispering globe. He bent over its base; did something with its mechanism; beckoned to us. The globe swam rapidly, faster than ever I had seen it before. A low humming arose, changed into a murmur, and then from it I heard Lugur’s voice clearly.
“It is to be war then?”
There was a chorus of assent—from the Council, I thought.
“I will take the tall one named—Larree.” It was the priestess’s voice. “After the three tal, you may have him, Lugur, to do with as you will.”
“No!” it was Lugur’s voice again, but with a rasp of anger. “All must die.”
“He shall die,” again Yolara. “But I would that first he see Lakla pass—and that she know what is to happen to him.”
“No!” I started—for this was Marakinoff. “Now is no time, Yolara, for one’s own desires. This is my counsel. At the end of the three tal Lakla will come for our answer. Your men will be in ambush and they will slay her and her escort quickly with the Keth. But not till that is done must the three be slain—and then quickly. With Lakla dead we shall go forth to the Silent Ones—and I promise you that I will find the way to destroy them!”
“It is well!” It was Lugur.
“It is well, Yolara.” It was a woman’s voice, and I knew it for that old one of ravaged beauty. “Cast from your mind whatever is in it for this stranger—either of love or hatred. In this the Council is with Lugur and the man of wisdom.”
There was a silence. Then came the priestess’s voice, sullen but—beaten.
“It is well!”
“Let the three be taken now by Rador to the temple and given to the High Priest Sator”—thus Lugur—”until what we have planned comes to pass.”
Rador gripped the base of the globe; abruptly it ceased its spinning. He turned to us as though to speak and even as he did so its bell note sounded peremptorily and on it the colour films began to creep at their accustomed pace.
“I hear,” the green dwarf whispered. “They shall be taken there at once.” The globe grew silent. He stepped toward us.
“You have heard,” he turned to us.
“Not on your life, Rador,” said Larry. “Nothing doing!” And then in the Murian’s own tongue. “We follow Lakla, Rador. And you lead the way.” He thrust the pistol close to the green dwarf’s side.
Rador did not move.
“Of what use, Larree?” he said, quietly. “Me you can slay—but in the end you will be taken. Life is not held so dear in Muria that my men out there or those others who can come quickly will let you by—even though you slay many. And in the end they will overpower you.”
There was a trace of irresolution in O’Keefe’s face.
“And,” added Rador, “if I let you go I dance with the Shining One—or worse!”
O’Keefe’s pistol hand dropped.
“You’re a good sport, Rador, and far be it from me to get you in bad,” he said. “Take us to the temple—when we get there—well, your responsibility ends, doesn’t it?”
The green dwarf nodded; on his face a curious expression—was it relief? Or was it emotion higher than this?
He turned curtly.
“Follow,” he said. We passed out of that gay little pavilion that had come to be home to us even in this alien place. The guards stood at attention.
“You, Sattoya, stand by the globe,” he ordered one of them. “Should the Afyo Maie ask, say that I am on my way with the strangers even as she has commanded.”
We passed through the lines to the corial standing like a great shell at the end of the runway leading into the green road.
“Wait you here,” he said curtly to the driver. The green dwarf ascended to his seat, sought the lever and we swept on—on and out upon the glistening obsidian.
Then Rador faced us and laughed.
“Larree,” he cried, “I love you for that spirit of yours! And did you think that Rador would carry to the temple prison a man who would take the chances of torment upon his own shoulders to save him? Or you, Goodwin, who saved him from the rotting death? For what did I take the corial or lift the veil of silence that I might hear what threatened you—”
He swept the corial to the left, away from the temple approach.
“I am done with Lugur and with Yolara and the Shining One!” cried Rador. “My hand is for you three and for Lakla and those to whom she is handmaiden!”
The shell leaped forward; seemed to fly.
 A tal in Muria is the equivalent of thirty hours of earth surface
time.—W. T. G.
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'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross”