The Maracot Deep by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Maracot Deep
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle



The Challenger Adventures

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
Scientific Romances

There are very many people who have written both to me, Cyrus Headley, Rhodes Scholar of Oxford, and to Professor Maracot, and even to Bill Scanlan, since our very remarkable experience at the bottom of the Atlantic, where we were able at a point 200 miles south-west of the Canaries to make a submarine descent which has not only led to a revision of our views concerning deep-sea life and pressures, but has also established the survival of an old civilization under incredibly difficult conditions. In these letters we have been continually asked to give further details about our experiences. It will be understood that my original document was a very superficial one, and yet it covered most of the facts. There were some, however, which were withheld, and above all the tremendous episode of the Lords of the Dark Face. This involved some facts and some conclusions of so utterly extraordinary a nature that we all thought it was best to suppress it entirely for the present. Now, however, that Science has accepted our conclusions--and I may add since Society has accepted my bride--our general veracity is established and we may perhaps venture upon a narrative which might have repulsed public sympathy in the first instance.

Before I get to the one tremendous happening I would lead up to it by some reminiscences of those wonderful months in the buried home of the Atlanteans, who by means of their vitrine oxygen bells are able to walk the ocean floor with the same ease as those Londoners whom I see now from my windows in the Hyde Park Hotel are strolling among the flower-beds.

When first we were taken in by these people after our dreadful fall from the surface we were in the position of prisoners rather than of guests. I wish now to set upon record how this came to change and how through the splendour of Dr. Maracot we have left such a name down there that the memory of us will go down in their annals as of some celestial visitation. They knew nothing of our leaving, which they would certainly have prevented if they could, so that no doubt there is already a legend that we have returned to some heavenly sphere, taking with us the sweetest and choicest flower of their flock.

I would wish now to set down in their order some of the strange things of this wonderful world, and also some of the adventures which befell us until I came to the supreme adventure of all--one which will leave a mark upon each of us for ever--the coming of the Lord of the Dark Face. In some ways I wish that we could have stayed longer in the Maracot Deep for there were many mysteries there, and up to the end there were things which we could not understand. Also we were rapidly learning something of their language, so that soon we should have had much more information.

Experience had taught these people what was terrible and what was innocent. One day, I remember, that there was a sudden alarm and that we all ran out in our oxygen bells on to the ocean bed, though why we ran or what we meant to do was a mystery to us. There could be no mistake, however, as to the horror and distraction upon the faces of those around us. When we got out on to the plain we met a number of the Greek coal-workers who were hastening towards the door of our Colony. They had come at such a pace, and were so weary that they kept falling down in the ooze, and it was clear that we were really a rescue party for the purpose of picking up these cripples, and hurrying up the laggards. We saw no sign of weapons and no show of resistance against the coming danger. Soon the colliers were hustled along, and when the last one had been shoved through the door we looked back along the line that they had traversed. All that we could see was a couple of greenish wisp-like clouds, luminous in the centre and ragged at the edges, which were drifting rather than moving in our direction. At the clear sight of them, though they were quite half a mile away, my companions were filled with panic and beat at the door so as to get in the sooner. It was surely nervous work to see these mysterious centres of trouble draw nearer, but the pumps acted swiftly and we were soon in safety once more. There was a great block of transparent crystal, ten feet long and two feet broad, above the lintel of the door, with lights so arranged that they threw a strong glare outside. Mounted on the ladders kept for the purpose, several of us, including myself, looked through this rude window. I saw the strange shimmering green circles of light pause before the door. As they did so the Atlanteans on either side of me simply gibbered with fear. Then one of the shadowy creatures outside came flicking up through the water and made for our crystal window. Instantly my companions pulled me down below the level of vision, but it seems that in my carelessness some of my hair did not get clear from whatever the maleficent influence may be which these strange creatures send forth. There is a patch there which is withered and white to this day.

It was not for a long time that the Atlanteans dared to open their door, and when at last a scout was sent forth he went amid hand-shakings and slaps on the back as one who does a gallant deed. His report was that all was clear, and soon joy had returned to the community, and this strange visitation seemed to have been forgotten. We only gathered from the word 'Praxa', repeated in various tones of horror, that this was the name of the creature. The only person who derived real joy from the incident was Professor Maracot, who could hardly be restrained from sallying out with a small net and a glass vase. 'A new order of life, partly organic, partly gaseous, but clearly intelligent,' was his general comment. 'A freak out of Hell,' was Scanlan's less scientific description.

Two days afterwards, when we were out on what we called a shrimping expedition, when we walked among the deep-sea foliage and captured in our hand-nets specimens of the smaller fish, we came suddenly upon the body of one of the coal-workers, who had no doubt been overtaken in his flight by these strange creatures. The glass bell had been broken --a matter which called for enormous strength, for this vitrine substance is extraordinarily tough, as you realized when you attempted to reach my first documents. The man's eyes had been tom out, but otherwise he had been uninjured.

'A dainty feeder!' said the Professor after our return. 'There is a hawk parrot in New Zealand which will kill the lamb in order to get at a particular morsel of fat above the kidney. So this creature will slay the man for his eyes. In the heavens above and in the waters below Nature knows but one law, and it is, alas! remorseless cruelty.'

We had many examples of that terrible law down there in the depths of the ocean. I can remember, for example, that many times we observed a curious groove upon the soft bathybian mud, as if a barrel had been rolled along it. We pointed it out to our Atlantean companions, and when we could interrogate them we tried to get from them some account of what this creature could be. As to its name our friends gave some of those peculiar clicking sounds which come into the Atlantean speech, and which cannot be reproduced either by the European tongue or by the European alphabet. Krixchok is, perhaps, an approximation to it. But as to its appearance we could always in such cases make use of the Atlantean thought reflector by which our friends were able to give a very clear vision of whatever was in their own minds. By this means they conveyed to us a picture of a very strange marine creature which the Professor could only classify as a gigantic sea slug. It seemed to be of great size, sausage shaped with eyes at the ends of stems, and a thick coating of coarse hair or bristles. When showing this apparition, our friends by their gestures expressed the greatest horror and repulsion.

But this, as anyone could predicate who knew Maracot, only served to inflame his scientific passions and to make him the more eager to determine the exact species and sub-species of this unknown monster. Accordingly I was not surprised when, on the occasion of our next excursion, he stopped at the point where we clearly saw the mark of the brute upon the slime, and turned deliberately towards the tangle of seaweed and basaltic blocks out of which it seemed to have come. The moment we left the plain the traces of course ceased, and yet there seemed to be a natural gully amid the rocks which clearly led to the den of the monster. We were all three armed with the pikes which the Atlanteans usually carried, but they seemed to me to be frail things with which to face unknown dangers. The Professor trudged ahead, however, and we could but follow after.

The rocky gorge ran upwards, its sides formed of huge clusters of volcanic debris and draped with a profusion of the long red and black forms of lamellaria which are characteristic of the extreme depths of Ocean. A thousand beautiful ascidians and echinoderms of every joyous colour and fantastic shape peeped out from amid this herbage, which was alive with strange crustaceans and low forms of creeping life. Our progress was slow, for walking is never easy in the depths, and the angle up which we toiled was an acute one. Suddenly, however, we saw the creature whom we hunted, and the sight was not a reassuring one.

It was half protruded from its lair, which was a hollow in a basaltic pile. About five feet of hairy body was visible, and we perceived its eyes, which were as large as saucers, yellow in colour, and glittering like agates, moving round slowly upon their long pedicles as it heard the sound of our approach. Then slowly it began to unwind itself from its burrow, waving its heavy body along in caterpillar fashion. Once it reared up its head some four feet from the rocks, so as to have a better look at us, and I observed, as it did so, that it had what looked like the corrugated soles of tennis shoes fastened on either side of its neck, the same colour, size, and striped appearance. What this might mean I could not conjecture, but we were soon to have an object lesson in their use.

The Professor had braced himself with his pike projecting forward and a most determined expression upon his face. It was clear that the hope of a rare specimen had swept all fear from his mind. Scanlan and I were by no means so sure of ourselves, but we could not abandon the old man, so we stood our ground on either side of him.

The creature, after that one long stare, began slowly and clumsily to make its way down the slope, worming its path among the rocks, and raising its pedicled eyes from time to time to see what we were about. It came so slowly that we seemed safe enough, since we could always out-distance it. And yet, had we only known it, we were standing very near to death.

It was surely Providence that sent us our warning. The beast was still making its lumbering approach, and may have been sixty yards from us, when a very large fish, a deep-sea groper, shot out from the algae-jungle on our side of the gorge and swam slowly across it. It had reached the centre, and was about midway between the creature and ourselves when it gave a convulsive leap, turned belly upwards, and sank dead to the bottom of the ravine. At the same moment each of us felt an extraordinary and most unpleasant tingling pass over our whole bodies, while our knees seemed to give way beneath us. Old Maracot was as wary as he was audacious, and in an instant he had sized up the situation and realized that the game was up. We were faced by some creature which threw out electric waves to kill its prey, and our pikes were of no more use against it than against a machine-gun. Had it not been for the lucky chance that the fish drew its fire, we should have waited until it was near enough to loose off its full battery, which would infallibly have destroyed us. We blundered off as swiftly as we could, with the resolution to leave the giant electric sea-worm severely alone for the future.

These were some of the more terrible of the dangers of the deep.. Yet another was the little black Hydrops ferox, as the Professor named him. He was a red fish not much longer than a herring, with a large mouth and a formidable row of teeth. He was harmless in ordinary circumstances, but the shedding of blood, even the very smallest amount of it, attracted him in an instant, and there was no possible salvation for the victim, who was torn to pieces by swarms of attackers. We saw a horrible sight once at the colliery pits, where a slave worker had the misfortune to cut his hand. In an instant, coming from all quarters, thousands of these fish were on to him. In vain he threw himself down and struggled; in vain his horrified companions beat them away with their picks and shovels. The lower part of him, beneath his bell, dissolved before our eyes amid the cloud of vibrant life which surrounded him. One instant we saw a man. The next there was a red mass with white protruding bones. A minute later the bones only were left below the waist and half a clean-picked skeleton was lying at the bottom of the sea. The sight was so horrifying that we were all ill, and the hard-boiled Scanlan actually fell down in a faint and we had some difficulty in getting him home.

But the strange sights which we saw were not always horrifying. I have in mind one which will never fade from our memory. It was on one of those excursions which we delighted to take, sometimes with an Atlantean guide, and sometimes by ourselves when our hosts had learned that we did not need constant attendance and nursing. We were passing over a portion of the plain with which we were quite familiar, when we perceived, to our surprise, that a great patch of light yellow sand, half an acre or so in extent, had been laid down or uncovered since our last visit. We were standing in some surprise, wondering what submarine current or seismic movement could have brought this about, when to our absolute amazement the whole thing rose up and swam with slow undulations immediately above our heads. It was so huge that the great canopy took some appreciable time, a minute or two, to pass from over us. It was a gigantic flat fish, not different, so far as the Professor could observe, from one of our own little dabs, but grown to this enormous size upon the nutritious food which the bathybian deposits provide. It vanished away into the darkness above us, a great, glimmering, flickering white--and yellow expanse, and we saw it no more.

There was one other phenomenon of the deep sea which was very unexpected. That was the tornadoes which frequently occur. They seem to be caused by the periodical arrival of violent submarine currents which set in with little warning and are terrific while they last, causing as much confusion and destruction as the highest wind would do upon land. No doubt without these visitations there would be that putridity and stagnation which absolute immobility must give, so that, as in all Nature's processes, there was an excellent object in view; but the experience none the less was an alarming one.

On the first occasion when I was caught in such a watery cyclone, I had gone out with that very dear lady to whom I have alluded, Mona, the daughter of Manda. There was a very beautiful bank loaded with algae of a thousand varied colours which lay a mile or so from the Colony. This was Mona's very special garden which she greatly loved, a tangle of pink serpularia, purple ophiurids and red holothurians. On this day she had taken me to see it, and it was while we were standing before it that the storm burst. So strong was the current which suddenly flowed upon us that it was only by holding together and getting behind the shelter of rocks that we could save ourselves from being washed away. I observed that this rushing stream of water was quite warm, almost as warm as one could bear, which may show that there is a volcanic origin in these disturbances and that they are the wash from some submarine disturbance in some far-off region of the ocean bed. The mud of the great plain was stirred up by the rush of the current, and the light was darkened by the thick cloud of matter suspended in the water around us. To find our way back was impossible, for we had lost all sense of direction, and in any case could hardly move against the rush of the water. Then on the top of all else a slowly increasing heaviness of the chest and difficulty in breathing warned me that our oxygen supply was beginning to fail us.

It is at such times, when we are in the immediate presence of death, that the great primitive passions float to the surface and submerge all our lesser emotions. It was only at that moment that I knew that I loved my gentle companion, loved her with all my heart and soul, loved her with a love which was rooted deep down and was part of my very self. How strange a thing is a love like that! How impossible to analyse! It was not for her face or figure, lovely as they were. It was not for her voice, though it was more musical than any I have known, nor was it for mental communion, since I could only learn her thoughts from her sensitive ever-changing face. No, it was something at the back of her dark dreamy eyes, something in the very depths of her soul as of mine which made us mates for all time. I held out my hand and clasped her own, reading in her face that there was no thought or emotion of mine which was not flooding her own receptive mind and flushing her lovely cheek. Death at my side would present no terror to her, and as for myself my heart throbbed at the very thought.

But it was not to be. One would think that our glass coverings excluded sounds, but as a matter of fact the throb of certain air vibrations penetrated them easily, or by their impact started similar vibrations within. There was a loud beat, a reverberating clang, like that of a distant gong. I had no idea what it might mean, but my companion was in no doubt. Still holding my hand, she rose from our shelter, and after listening intently she crouched down and began to make her way against the storm. It was a race against death, for every instant the terrible oppression on my chest became more unbearable. I saw her dear face peering most anxiously into mine, and I staggered on in the direction to which she led me. Her appearance and her movements showed that her oxygen supply was less exhausted than mine. I held on as long as Nature would allow, and then suddenly everything swam around me. I threw out my arms and fell senseless upon the soft ocean floor.

When I came to myself I was lying on my own couch inside the Atlantean Palace. The old yellow--clad priest was standing beside me, a phial of some stimulant in his hand. Maracot and Scanlan, with distressed faces, were bending over me, while Mona knelt at the bottom of the bed with tender anxiety upon her features. It seems that the brave girl had hastened on to the community door, from which on occasions of this sort it was the custom to beat a great gong as a guide to any wanderers who might be lost. There she had explained my position and had guided back the rescue party, including my two comrades who had brought me back in their arms. Whatever I may do in life, it is truly Mona who will do it, for that life has been a gift from her.

Now that by a miracle she has come to join me in the upper world, the human world under the sky, it is strange to reflect upon the fact that my love was such that I was willing, most willing, to remain for ever in the depths so long as she should be all my own. For long I could not understand that deep, deep intimate bond which held us together, and which was felt, as I could see, as strongly by her as by me. It was Manda, her father, who gave me an explanation which was as unexpected as it was satisfying.

He had smiled gently over our love affair--smiled with the indulgent, half-amused air of one who sees that come to pass which he had already anticipated. Then one day he led me aside and in his own chamber he placed that silver screen upon which his thoughts and knowledge could be reflected. Never while the breath of life is in my body can I forget that which he showed me--and her. Seated side by side, our hands clasped together, we watched entranced while the pictures flickered up before our eyes, formed and projected by that racial memory of the past which these Atlanteans possess.

There was a rocky peninsula jutting out into a lovely blue ocean. I may not have told you before that in these thought cinemas, if I may use the expression, colour is produced as well as form. On this headland was a house of quaint design, wide-spread, red-roofed, white-walled, and beautiful. A grove of palm trees surrounded it. In this grove there appeared to be a camp, for we could see the white sheen of tents and here and there the glimmer of arms as of some sentinel keeping ward. Out of this grove there walked a middle-aged man clad in mail armour, with a round light shield on his arm. He carried something in his other hand, but whether sword or javelin I could not see. He turned his face towards us once, and I saw at once that he was of the same breed as the Atlantean men who were around me. Indeed, he might have been the twin brother of Manda, save that his features were harsh and menacing--a brute man, but one who was brutal not from ignorance but from the trend of his own nature. The brute and the brain are surely the most dangerous of all combinations. In this high forehead and sardonic, bearded mouth one sensed the very essence of evil. If this were indeed some previous incarnation of Manda himself, and by his gestures he seemed to wish us to understand that it was, then in soul, if not in mind, he has risen far since then.

As he approached the house, we saw in the picture that a young woman came out to meet him. She was clad as the old Greeks were clad, in a long clinging white garment, the simplest and yet the most beautiful and dignified dress that woman has ever yet devised. Her manner as she approached the man was one of submission and reverence--the manner of a dutiful daughter to a father. He repulsed her savagely, however, raising his hand as if to strike her As she shrank back from him, the sun lit up her beautiful, tearful face and I saw that it was my Mona.

The silver screen blurred, and an instant later another scene was forming. It was a rock-bound cove, which I sensed to belong to that very peninsula which I had already seen. A strange-shaped boat with high pointed ends was in the foreground. It was night, but the moon shone very brightly on the water. The familiar stars, the same to Atlantis as to us, glittered in the sky. Slowly and cautiously the boat drew in. There were two rowers, and in the bows a man enveloped in a dark cloak. As he came close to the shore he stood up and looked eagerly around him. I saw his pale, earnest face in the clear moonlight. It did not need the convulsive clasp of Mona or the ejaculation of Manda to explain that strange intimate thrill which shot over me as I looked. The man was myself.

Yes, I, Cyrus Headley, now of New York and of Oxford; I, the latest product of modern culture, had myself once been part of this mighty civilization of old. I understood now why many of the symbols and hieroglyphs which I had seen around had impressed me with a vague familiarity. Again and again I had felt like a man who strains his memory because he feels that he is on the edge of some great discovery, which is always awaiting him, and yet is always just outside his grasp. Now, too, I understood that deep soul thrill which I had encountered when my eyes met those of Mona. They came from the depths of my own subconscious self where the memories of twelve thousand years still lingered.

Now the boat had touched the shore, and out of the bushes above there had come a glimmering white figure. My arms were outstretched to enfold it. After one hurried embrace I had half lifted, half carried her into the boat. But now there was a sudden alarm. With frantic gestures I beckoned to the rowers to push out. It was too late. Men swarmed out of the bushes. Eager hands seized the side of the boat. In vain I tried to beat them off. An axe gleamed in the air and crashed down upon my head. I fell forward dead upon the lady bathing her white robe in my blood. I saw her screaming, wild-eyed and open-mouthed, while her father dragged her by her long black hair from underneath my body. Then the curtain closed down.

Once again a picture flickered up upon the silver screen. It was inside the house of refuge which had been built by the wise Atlantean for a place of refuge on the day of doom--that very house in which we now stood. I saw its crowded, terrified inmates at the moment of the catastrophe. Then I saw my Mona once again, and there also was her father who had learned better and wiser ways so that he was now included among those who might be saved. We saw the great hall rocking like a ship in a storm, while the awestruck refugees clung to the pillars or fell upon the floor. Then we saw the lurch and fall as it descended through the waves. Once more the scene died away, and Manda turned smiling to show that all was over.

Yes, we had lived before, the whole group of us, Manda and Mona and I, and perhaps shall live again, acting and reacting down the long chain of our lives. I had died in the upper world, and so my own reincarnations had been upon that plane. Manda and Mona had died under, the waves, and so it was there that their cosmic destiny had been worked out. We had for a moment seen a corner lifted in the great dark veil of Nature and had one passing gleam of truth amid the mysteries which surround us. Each life is but one chapter in a story which God has designed. You cannot judge its wisdom or its justice until in some supreme day, from some pinnacle of knowledge, you look back and see at last the cause and the effect, acting and reacting, down all the long chronicles of Time.

This new-found and delightful relationship of mine may have saved us all a little later when the only serious quarrel which we ever had broke out between us and the community with which we dwelt. As it was, it might have gone ill with us had not a far greater matter come to engage the attention of all, and to place us on a pinnacle in their estimation. It came about thus.

One morning, if such a term can be used where the time of day could only be judged by our occupations, the Professor and I were seated in our large common room. He had fitted one corner of it as a laboratory and was busily engaged in dissecting a gastrostomus which he had netted the day before. On his table were scattered a litter of amphipods and copepods with specimens of Valella, Ianthina, Physalia, and a hundred other creatures whose smell was by no means as attractive as their appearance. I was seated near him studying an Atlantean grammar, for our friends had plenty of books, printed in curious right to left fashion upon what I thought was parchment but which proved to be the bladders of fishes, pressed and preserved. I was bent on getting the key which would unlock all this knowledge, and therefore I spent much of my time over the alphabet and the elements of the language.

Suddenly, however, our peaceful pursuits were rudely interrupted by an extraordinary procession which rushed into the room. First came Bill Scanlan, very red and excited, one arm waving in the air, and, to our amazement, a plump and noisy baby under the other. Behind him was Berbrix, the Atlantean engineer who had helped Scanlan to erect the wireless receiver. He was a large stout jovial man as a rule, but now his big fat face was convulsed with grief. Behind him again was a woman whose straw-coloured hair and blue eyes showed that she was no Atlantean but one of the subordinate race which we traced to the ancient Greeks.

'Look it here, boss,' cried the excited Scanlan. 'This guy Berbrix, who is a regular fellar, is going clean goofie and so is this skirt whom he has married, and I guess it is up to us to see that they get a square deal. Far as I understand it she is like a nigger would be down South, and he said a mouthful when he asked her to marry him, but I reckon that's the guy's own affair and nothing to us.'

'Of course it is his own affair,' said I. 'What on earth has bitten you, Scanlan?'

'It's like this, boss. Here ha! a baby come along. It seems the folk here don't want a breed of that sort nohow, and the Priests are out to offer up the baby to that darn image down yonder. The chief high muck-a-muck got hold of the baby and was sailin' off with it but Berbrix yanked it away, and I threw him down on his ear-hole, and now the whole pack are at our heels and--'

Scanlan got no further with his explanation, for there was a shouting and a rush of feet in the passage, our door was flung open, and several of the yellow-clad attendants of the Temple rushed into the room. Behind them, fierce and austere, came the high-nosed formidable Priest. He, beckoned with his hand, and his servants rushed forward to seize the child. They halted, however, in indecision as they saw Scanlan throw the baby down among the specimens on the table behind him, and pick up a pike with which he confronted his assailants. They had drawn their knives, so I also ran with a pike to Scanlan's aid, while Berbrix did the same. So menacing were we that the Temple servants shrank back and things seemed to have come to a deadlock.

'Mr. Headley, sir, you speak a bit of their lingo,' cried: Scanlan. 'Tell them there ain't no soft pickings here. Tell them we ain't givin' away no babies this morning, thank you. Tell them there will be such a rough house as they never saw if they don't vamose the ranche. There now, you asked for it and you've got it good and plenty and I wish you joy.'

The latter part of Scanlan's speech was caused by the fact that Dr. Maracot had suddenly plunged the scalpel with which he was performing his dissection into the arm of one of the attendants who had crept round and had raised his knife to stab Scanlan. The man howled and danced about in fear and pain while his comrades, incited by the old Priest, prepared to make a rush. Heaven only knows what would have happened if Manda and Mona had not entered the room. He stared with amazement at the scene and asked a number of eager questions of the High Priest. Mona had come over to me, and with a happy inspiration I picked up the baby and placed it in her arms, where it settled down and cooed most contentedly.

Manda's brow was overcast and it was clear that he was greatly puzzled what to do. He sent the Priest and his satellites back to the Temple, and then he entered into a long explanation, only a part of which I could understand and pass on to my companions.

'You are to give up the baby,' I said to Scanlan.

'Give it up! No, sir. Nothin' doing!'

'This lady is to take charge of mother and child.'

'That's another matter. If Miss Mona takes it on, I am contented. But if that bindlestiff of a priest--'

'No, no, he cannot interfere. The matter is to be referred to the Council. It is very serious, for I understand Manda to say that the Priest is within his rights and that it is an old-established custom of the nation. They could never, he says, distinguish between the upper and lower races if they had all sorts of intermediates in between. If children are born they must die. That is the law.'

'Well, this baby won't die anyhow.'

'I hope not. He said he would do all he could with the Council. But it will be a week or two before they meet. So it's safe up to then, and who knows what may happen in the meantime.'

Yes, who knew what might happen. Who could have dreamed what did happen. Out of this is fashioned the next chapter of our adventures.

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