THE MOON POOL (27)
December 13, 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 Wooing of Lakla
I had slept soundly and dreamlessly; I wakened quietly in the great chamber into which Rador had ushered O’Keefe and myself after that culminating experience of crowded, nerve-racking hours—the facing of the Three.
Now, lying gazing upward at the high-vaulted ceiling, I heard Larry’s voice:
“They look like birds.” Evidently he was thinking of the Three; a silence—then: “Yes, they look like birds—and they look, and it’s meaning no disrespect to them I am at all, they look like lizards“—and another silence—”they look like some sort of gods, and, by the good sword-arm of Brian Boru, they look human, too! And it’s none of them they are either, so what—what the—what the sainted St. Bridget are they?” Another short silence, and then in a tone of awed and absolute conviction: “That’s it, sure! That’s what they are—it all hangs in—they couldn’t be anything else—”
He gave a whoop; a pillow shot over and caught me across the head.
“Wake up!” shouted Larry. “Wake up, ye seething caldron of fossilized superstitions! Wake up, ye bogy-haunted man of scientific unwisdom!”
Under pillow and insults I bounced to my feet, filled for a moment with quite real wrath; he lay back, roaring with laughter, and my anger was swept away.
“Doc,” he said, very seriously, after this, “I know who the Three are!”
“Yes?” I queried, with studied sarcasm.
“Yes?” he mimicked. “Yes! Ye—ye” He paused under the menace of my look, grinned. “Yes, I know,” he continued. “They’re of the Tuatha De, the old ones, the great people of Ireland, that’s who they are!”
I knew, of course, of the Tuatha De Danann, the tribes of the god Danu, the half-legendary, half-historical clan who found their home in Erin some four thousand years before the Christian era, and who have left so deep an impress upon the Celtic mind and its myths.
“Yes,” said Larry again, “the Tuatha De—the Ancient Ones who had spells that could compel Mananan, who is the spirit of all the seas, an’ Keithor, who is the god of all green living things, an’ even Hesus, the unseen god, whose pulse is the pulse of all the firmament; yes, an’ Orchil too, who sits within the earth an’ weaves with the shuttle of mystery and her three looms of birth an’ life an’ death—even Orchil would weave as they commanded!”
He was silent—then:
“They are of them—the mighty ones—why else would I have bent my knee to them as I would have to the spirit of my dead mother? Why else would Lakla, whose gold-brown hair is the hair of Eilidh the Fair, whose mouth is the sweet mouth of Deirdre, an’ whose soul walked with mine ages agone among the fragrant green myrtle of Erin, serve them?” he whispered, eyes full of dream.
“Have you any idea how they got here?” I asked, not unreasonably.
“I haven’t thought about that,” he replied somewhat testily. “But at once, me excellent man o’ wisdom, a number occur to me. One of them is that this little party of three might have stopped here on their way to Ireland, an’ for good reasons of their own decided to stay a while; an’ another is that they might have come here afterward, havin’ got wind of what those rats out there were contemplatin’, and have stayed on the job till the time was ripe to save Ireland from ’em; the rest of the world, too, of course,” he added magnanimously, “but Ireland in particular. And do any of those reasons appeal to ye?”
I shook my head.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked wearily.
“I think,” I said cautiously, “that we face an evolution of highly intelligent beings from ancestral sources radically removed from those through which mankind ascended. These half-human, highly developed batrachians they call the Akka prove that evolution in these caverned spaces has certainly pursued one different path than on earth. The Englishman, Wells, wrote an imaginative and very entertaining book concerning an invasion of earth by Martians, and he made his Martians enormously specialized cuttlefish. There was nothing inherently improbable in Wells’ choice. Man is the ruling animal of earth today solely by reason of a series of accidents; under another series spiders or ants, or even elephants, could have become the dominant race.
“I think,” I said, even more cautiously, “that the race to which the Three belong never appeared on earth’s surface; that their development took place here, unhindered through aeons. And if this be true, the structure of their brains, and therefore all their reactions, must be different from ours. Hence their knowledge and command of energies unfamiliar to us—and hence also the question whether they may not have an entirely different sense of values, of justice—and that is rather terrifying,” I concluded.
Larry shook his head.
“That last sort of knocks your argument, Doc,” he said. “They had sense of justice enough to help me out—and certainly they know love—for I saw the way they looked at Lakla; and sorrow—for there was no mistaking that in their faces.
“No,” he went on. “I hold to my own idea. They’re of the Old People. The little leprechaun knew his way here, an’ I’ll bet it was they who sent the word. An’ if the O’Keefe banshee comes here—which save the mark!—I’ll bet she’ll drop in on the Silent Ones for a social visit before she an’ her clan get busy. Well, it’ll make her feel more at home, the good old body. No, Doc, no,” he concluded, “I’m right; it all fits in too well to be wrong.”
I made a last despairing attempt.
“Is there anything anywhere in Ireland that would indicate that the Tuatha De ever looked like the Three?” I asked—and again I had spoken most unfortunately.
“Is there?” he shouted. “Is there? By the kilt of Cormack MacCormack, I’m glad ye reminded me. It was worryin’ me a little meself. There was Daghda, who could put on the head of a great boar an’ the body of a giant fish and cleave the waves an’ tear to pieces the birlins of any who came against Erin; an’ there was Rinn—”
How many more of the metamorphoses of the Old People I might have heard, I do not know, for the curtains parted and in walked Rador.
“You have rested well,” he smiled, “I can see. The handmaiden bade me call you. You are to eat with her in her garden.”
Down long corridors we trod and out upon a gardened terrace as beautiful as any of those of Yolara’s city; bowered, blossoming, fragrant, set high upon the cliffs beside the domed castle. A table, as of milky jade, was spread at one corner, but the Golden Girl was not there. A little path ran on and up, hemmed in by the mass of verdure. I looked at it longingly; Rador saw the glance, interpreted it, and led me up the stepped sharp slope into a rock embrasure.
Here I was above the foliage, and everywhere the view was clear. Below me stretched the incredible bridge, with the frog people hurrying back and forth upon it. A pinnacle at my side hid the abyss. My eyes followed the cavern ledge. Above it the rock rose bare, but at the ends of the semicircular strand a luxuriant vegetation began, stretching from the crimson shores back into far distances. Of browns and reds and yellows, like an autumn forest, was the foliage, with here and there patches of dark-green, as of conifers. Five miles or more, on each side, the forests swept, and then were lost to sight in the haze.
I turned and faced an immensity of crimson waters, unbroken, a true sea, if ever there was one. A breeze blew—the first real wind I had encountered in the hidden places; under it the surface, that had been as molten lacquer, rippled and dimpled. Little waves broke with a spray of rose-pearls and rubies. The giant Medusae drifted—stately, luminous kaleidoscopic elfin moons.
Far down, peeping around a jutting tower of the cliff, I saw dipping with the motion of the waves a floating garden. The flowers, too, were luminous—indeed sparkling—gleaming brilliants of scarlet and vermilions lighter than the flood on which they lay, mauves and odd shades of reddish-blue. They gleamed and shone like a little lake of jewels.
Rador broke in upon my musings.
“Lakla comes! Let us go down.”
It was a shy Lakla who came slowly around the end of the path and, blushing furiously, held her hands out to Larry. And the Irishman took them, placed them over his heart, kissed them with a tenderness that had been lacking in the half-mocking, half-fierce caresses he had given the priestess. She blushed deeper, holding out the tapering fingers—then pressed them to her own heart.
“I like the touch of your lips, Larry,” she whispered. “They warm me here”—she pressed her heart again—”and they send little sparkles of light through me.” Her brows tilted perplexedly, accenting the nuance of diablerie, delicate and fascinating, that they cast upon the flower face.
“Do you?” whispered the O’Keefe fervently. “Do you, Lakla?” He bent toward her. She caught the amused glance of Rador; drew herself aside half-haughtily.
“Rador,” she said, “is it not time that you and the strong one, Olaf, were setting forth?”
“Truly it is, handmaiden,” he answered respectfully enough—yet with a current of laughter under his words. “But as you know the strong one, Olaf, wished to see his friends here before we were gone—and he comes even now,” he added, glancing down the pathway, along which came striding the Norseman.
As he faced us I saw that a transformation had been wrought in him. Gone was the pitiful seeking, and gone too the just as pitiful hope. The set face softened as he looked at the Golden Girl and bowed low to her. He thrust a hand to O’Keefe and to me.
“There is to be battle,” he said. “I go with Rador to call the armies of these frog people. As for me—Lakla has spoken. There is no hope for—for mine Helma in life, but there is hope that we destroy the Shining Devil and give mine Helma peace. And with that I am well content, ja! Well content!” He gripped our hands again. “We will fight!” he muttered. “Ja! And I will have vengeance!” The sternness returned; and with a salute Rador and he were gone.
Two great tears rolled from the golden eyes of Lakla.
“Not even the Silent Ones can heal those the Shining One has taken,” she said. “He asked me—and it was better that I tell him. It is part of the Three’s—punishment—but of that you will soon learn,” she went on hurriedly. “Ask me no questions now of the Silent Ones. I thought it better for Olaf to go with Rador, to busy himself, to give his mind other than sorrow upon which to feed.”
Up the path came five of the frog-women, bearing platters and ewers. Their bracelets and anklets of jewels were tinkling; their middles covered with short kirtles of woven cloth studded with the sparkling ornaments.
And here let me say that if I have given the impression that the Akka are simply magnified frogs, I regret it. Frog-like they are, and hence my phrase for them—but as unlike the frog, as we know it, as man is unlike the chimpanzee. Springing, I hazard, from the stegocephalia, the ancestor of the frogs, these batrachians followed a different line of evolution and acquired the upright position just as man did his from the four-footed folk.
The great staring eyes, the shape of the muzzle were frog-like, but the highly developed brain had set upon the head and shape of it vital differences. The forehead, for instance, was not low, flat, and retreating—its frontal arch was well defined. The head was, in a sense, shapely, and with the females the great horny carapace that stood over it like a fantastic helmet was much modified, as were the spurs that were so formidable in the male; colouration was different also. The torso was upright; the legs a little bent, giving them their crouching gait—but I wander from my subject.
They set their burdens down. Larry looked at them with interest.
“You surely have those things well trained, Lakla,” he said.
“Things!” The handmaiden arose, eyes flashing with indignation. “You call my Akka things!”
“Well,” said Larry, a bit taken aback, “what do you call them?”
“My Akka are a people,” she retorted. “As much a people as your race or mine. They are good and loyal, and they have speech and arts, and they slay not, save for food or to protect themselves. And I think them beautiful, Larry, beautiful!” She stamped her foot. “And you call them—things!”
Beautiful! These? Yet, after all, they were, in their grotesque fashion. And to Lakla, surrounded by them, from babyhood, they were not strange, at all. Why shouldn’t she think them beautiful? The same thought must have struck O’Keefe, for he flushed guiltily.
“I think them beautiful, too, Lakla,” he said remorsefully. “It’s my not knowing your tongue too well that traps me. Truly, I think them beautiful—I’d tell them so, if I knew their talk.”
Lakla dimpled, laughed—spoke to the attendants in that strange speech that was unquestionably a language; they bridled, looked at O’Keefe with fantastic coquetry, cracked and boomed softly among themselves.
“They say they like you better than the men of Muria,” laughed Lakla.
“Did I ever think I’d be swapping compliments with lady frogs!” he murmured to me. “Buck up, Larry—keep your eyes on the captive Irish princess!” he muttered to himself.
“Rador goes to meet one of the ladala who is slipping through with news,” said the Golden Girl as we addressed ourselves to the food. “Then, with Nak, he and Olaf go to muster the Akka—for there will be battle, and we must prepare. Nak,” she added, “is he who went before me when you were dancing with Yolara, Larry.” She stole a swift, mischievous glance at him. “He is headman of all the Akka.”
“Just what forces can we muster against them when they come, darlin’?” said Larry.
“Darlin’?”—the Golden Girl had caught the caress of the word—”what’s that?”
“It’s a little word that means Lakla,” he answered. “It does—that is, when I say it; when you say it, then it means Larry.”
“I like that word,” mused Lakla.
“You can even say Larry darlin’!” suggested O’Keefe.
“Larry darlin’!” said Lakla. “When they come we shall have first of all my Akka—”
“Can they fight, mavourneen?” interrupted Larry.
“Can they fight! My Akka!” Again her eyes flashed. “They will fight to the last of them—with the spears that give the swift rotting, covered, as they are, with the jelly of those Saddu there—” She pointed through a rift in the foliage across which, on the surface of the sea, was floating one of the moon globes—and now I know why Rador had warned Larry against a plunge there. “With spears and clubs and with teeth and nails and spurs—they are a strong and brave people, Larry—darlin’, and though they hurl the Keth at them, it is slow to work upon them, and they slay even while they are passing into the nothingness!”
“And have we none of the Keth?” he asked.
“No”—she shook her head—”none of their weapons have we here, although it was—it was the Ancient Ones who shaped them.”
“But the Three are of the Ancient Ones?” I cried. “Surely they can tell—”
“No,” she said slowly. “No—there is something you must know—and soon; and then the Silent Ones say you will understand. You, especially, Goodwin, who worship wisdom.”
“Then,” said Larry, “we have the Akka; and we have the four men of us, and among us three guns and about a hundred cartridges—an’—an’ the power of the Three—but what about the Shining One, Fireworks—”
“I do not know.” Again the indecision that had been in her eyes when Yolara had launched her defiance crept back. “The Shining One is strong—and he has his—slaves!”
“Well, we’d better get busy good and quick!” the O’Keefe’s voice rang. But Lakla, for some reason of her own, would pursue the matter no further. The trouble fled from her eyes—they danced.
“Larry darlin’?” she murmured. “I like the touch of your lips—”
“You do?” he whispered, all thought flying of anything but the beautiful, provocative face so close to his. “Then, acushla, you’re goin’ to get acquainted with ’em! Turn your head, Doc!” he said.
And I turned it. There was quite a long silence, broken by an interested, soft outburst of gentle boomings from the serving frog-maids. I stole a glance behind me. Lakla’s head lay on the Irishman’s shoulder, the golden eyes misty sunpools of love and adoration; and the O’Keefe, a new look of power and strength upon his clear-cut features, was gazing down into them with that look which rises only from the heart touched for the first time with that true, all-powerful love, which is the pulse of the universe itself, the real music of the spheres of which Plato dreamed, the love that is stronger than death itself, immortal as the high gods and the true soul of all that mystery we call life.
Then Lakla raised her hands, pressed down Larry’s head, kissed him between the eyes, drew herself with a trembling little laugh from his embrace.
“The future Mrs. Larry O’Keefe, Goodwin,” said Larry to me a little unsteadily.
I took their hands—and Lakla kissed me!
She turned to the booming—smiling—frog-maids; gave them some command, for they filed away down the path. Suddenly I felt, well, a little superfluous.
“If you don’t mind,” I said, “I think I’ll go up the path there again and look about.”
But they were so engrossed with each other that they did not even hear me—so I walked away, up to the embrasure where Rador had taken me. The movement of the batrachians over the bridge had ceased. Dimly at the far end I could see the cluster of the garrison. My thoughts flew back to Lakla and to Larry.
What was to be the end?
If we won, if we were able to pass from this place, could she live in our world? A product of these caverns with their atmosphere and light that seemed in some subtle way to be both food and drink—how would she react to the unfamiliar foods and air and light of outer earth? Further, here so far as I was able to discover, there were no malignant bacilli—what immunity could Lakla have then to those microscopic evils without, which only long ages of sickness and death have bought for us a modicum of protection? I began to be oppressed. Surely they had been long enough by themselves. I went down the path.
I heard Larry.
“It’s a green land, mavourneen. And the sea rocks and dimples around it—blue as the heavens, green as the isle itself, and foam horses toss their white manes, and the great clean winds blow over it, and the sun shines down on it like your eyes, acushla—”
“And are you a king of Ireland, Larry darlin’?” Thus Lakla—
At last we turned to go—and around the corner of the path I caught another glimpse of what I have called the lake of jewels. I pointed to it.
“Those are lovely flowers, Lakla,” I said. “I have never seen anything like them in the place from whence we come.”
She followed my pointing finger—laughed.
“Come,” she said, “let me show you them.”
She ran down an intersecting way, we following; came out of it upon a little ledge close to the brink, three feet or more I suppose about it. The Golden Girl’s voice rang out in a high-pitched, tremulous, throbbing call.
The lake of jewels stirred as though a breeze had passed over it; stirred, shook, and then began to move swiftly, a shimmering torrent of shining flowers down upon us! She called again, the movement became more rapid; the gem blooms streamed closer—closer, wavering, shifting, winding—at our very feet. Above them hovered a little radiant mist. The Golden Girl leaned over; called softly, and up from the sparkling mass shot a green vine whose heads were five flowers of flaming ruby—shot up, flew into her hand and coiled about the white arm, its quintette of lambent blossoms—regarding us!
It was the thing Lakla had called the Yekta; that with which she had threatened the priestess; the thing that carried the dreadful death—and the Golden Girl was handling it like a rose!
Larry swore—I looked at the thing more closely. It was a hydroid, a development of that strange animal-vegetable that, sometimes almost microscopic, waves in the sea depths like a cluster of flowers paralyzing its prey with the mysterious force that dwells in its blossom heads!
“Put it down, Lakla,” the distress in O’Keefe’s voice was deep. Lakla laughed mischievously, caught the real fear for her in his eyes; opened her hand, gave another faint call—and back it flew to its fellows.
“Why, it wouldn’t hurt me, Larry!” she expostulated. “They know me!”
“Put it down!” he repeated hoarsely.
She sighed, gave another sweet, prolonged call. The lake of gems—rubies and amethysts, mauves and scarlet-tinged blues—wavered and shook even as it had before—and swept swiftly back to that place whence she had drawn them!
Then, with Larry and Lakla walking ahead, white arm about his brown neck; the O’Keefe still expostulating, the handmaiden laughing merrily, we passed through her bower to the domed castle.
Glancing through a cleft I caught sight again of the far end of the bridge; noted among the clustered figures of its garrison of the frog-men a movement, a flashing of green fire like marshlights on spear tips; wondered idly what it was, and then, other thoughts crowding in, followed along, head bent, behind the pair who had found in what was Olaf’s hell, their true paradise.
 The Akka are viviparous. The female produces progeny at five-year intervals, never more than two at a time. They are monogamous, like certain of our own Ranidae. Pending my monograph upon what little I had time to learn of their interesting habits and customs, the curious will find instruction and entertainment in Brandes and Schvenichen’s Brutpfleige der Schwanzlosen Bat rachier, p. 395; and Lilian V. Sampson’s Unusual Modes of Breeding among Anura, Amer. Nat. xxxiv., 1900.—W. T. G.
 The Yekta of the Crimson Sea, are as extraordinary developments of hydroid forms as the giant Medusae, of which, of course, they are not too remote cousins. The closest resemblances to them in outer water forms are among the Gymnoblastic Hydroids, notably Clavetella prolifera, a most interesting ambulatory form of six tentacles. Almost every bather in Southern waters, Northern too, knows the pain that contact with certain “jelly fish” produces. The Yekta’s development was prodigious and, to us, monstrous. It secretes in its five heads an almost incredibly swiftly acting poison which I suspect, for I had no chance to verify the theory, destroys the entire nervous system to the accompaniment of truly infernal agony; carrying at the same time the illusion that the torment stretches through infinities of time. Both ether and nitrous oxide gas produce in the majority this sensation of time extension, without of course the pain symptom. What Lakla called the Yekta kiss is I imagine about as close to the orthodox idea of Hell as can be conceived. The secret of her control over them I had no opportunity of learning in the rush of events that followed. Knowledge of the appalling effects of their touch came, she told me, from those few “who had been kissed so lightly” that they recovered. Certainly nothing, not even the Shining One, was dreaded by the Murians as these were—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” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World”..